By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Pain usually loses when it challenges Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara.
After the Boston captain blocked Tomas Tatar’s one-timer at 14:51 of the second period Saturday at TD Garden, Chara conceded to pain – or at least he waited until the puck was cleared to put his hand on the left side of his torso and wince.
“It did but [hurt] it’s more one of those kind of stingers that hurts for a few seconds pretty bad and then it goes away,” Chara said after his all-world defensive game helped the Bruins defeat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 and extend their winning streak to four games.
“But when you get in the area where there’s no pads, you’re going to eat it a little bit and that’s the way it goes. Again that’s my job to block a shot and it’s a part of hockey, it hurts.”
The puck may have hurt Chara, but he and rookie partner Charlie McAvoy took out any anger they had on the talented Red Wings line of Henrik Zetterberg centering Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist – the latest NHL power trio to find out that even at 40 years old Chara hasn’t lost an ounce of defensive prowess.
Mantha, the Red Wings’ leading goal scorer with 13, didn’t have a shot attempt. Nyquist landed three shots on the nearly impenetrable Tuukka Rask, who finished with 30 saves on 31 shots. And Zetterberg, the future Hall-of-Famer, had three shots on net but one came during the Red Wings’ desperate final couple minutes of 6-on-5 play.
As limited as he was by Chara’s defense, Zetterberg was short of words after the Bruins’ win.
“He’s a good defenseman, yep,” was all Zetterberg could say after Chara forced him into a pedestrian performance.
Chara had a little more to say.
“They have a good lineup and pretty deep, obviously a lot of speed a lot of skill throughout the lineup. We were just trying to focus on our job and skate and have good gaps, take away obviously as much as we could from that line and keep them on the outside. They get some chances but not the ones that they probably wanted.
The second-period blocked shot wasn’t Chara’s only highlight of that 20 minutes. Earlier he showed he has a finesse side to go with his rugged side. After Nyquist’s shot from in tight hopped over Rask’s pad, Chara stopped it before it could get to the goal line and tucked it under Rask with his backhand.
“It’s going to happen, you’re going to make that save occasionally and that was the time that I did,” Chara said. “Most of the times Tuukka has control of that area but I was trying to obviously let him know the puck was underneath, so he didn’t have to move much. But he did a good job not to move and we got a whistle. It’s my job.”
After an eventful second period, didn’t slow Chara down. He played 9:35 of his total 22:52 in the third period, including a shift of 1:35 with the Bruins protecting a one-goal lead before Patrice Bergeron scored his second goal of the period into an empty net.
Zetterberg tried to make a move for the tying goal with just a little more than one minute to go in regulation, but after he turned the corner toward the Boston net, Chara was able to use his length and strength to poke check the puck away without Zetterberg even getting a shot.
The Bruins have won seven of their past nine (7-1-1), they’re in a playoff position and the three-day Christmas break seems like a perfect time to assess where things stand. Chara’s 40 and facing more doubters than ever, but he still leads the team in ice time (23:29), is still the best penalty-killing defenseman in the League and is the No. 1 reason a young Bruins team hasn’t been exploited by the likes of Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and most recently, Zetterberg.
As always, Chara’s not satisfied.
“Pretty soon, before you know it, it’s the half point of the season, and you want to continue to keep getting better and improving,” Chara said. “That’s where we’re at.”
The Bruins wouldn’t be where they’re “at” if they didn’t have Chara.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.