BOSTON (CBS) — Thursday night was, in many ways, shaping up to be all about Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. After three days of speculation, Chara took the ice despite suffering what’s reportedly a broken jaw, unwilling to abandon his team in the middle of a grueling Stanley Cup Final.
Alas, an unfortunate break in the form of a missed penalty call worked to sour the evening for the Bruins and thus steal most of the shine away from what was a noble effort from the 42-year-old defenseman.
Even in defeat, though, Chara’s willingness to play through severe pain earned the respect and admiration of his teammates.
“His injury is a little more serious than some,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the 2-1 loss in Game 5. “He was medically cleared with some warnings and he made the decision to play. Inspirational for us, good player for us, we knew he wouldn’t be 100 percent, so we were happy to have him out there. But it just speaks a lot to his character and his will to play.”
Goaltender Tuukka Rask, whose workload was more challenging than the 21 shots faced would suggest, summed up his feelings quite succinctly.
“It shows his character. It takes a lot for him not to play,” Rask said. “Yeah, he’s got some big balls.”
Chara, who was the first Bruins skater on the ice for pregame warmups, started the game for Boston. As expected, when his name was called, the TD Garden crowd erupted.
The players certainly took note of that moment.
“Yeah, I think it’s pretty special, even the crowd at the start of the game, how loud it got in here,” Jake DeBrusk said. “And obviously he’s playing through something pretty major, so you know to put in a gutsy effort like that it’s a morale boost.”
The Bruins did appear to get an injection of life from that moment, as they completely dominated play through the first period. The home team landed 17 shots on goal and had 27 shot attempts through the opening 20 minutes, while the Blues had just eight shots on goal on 14 shot attempts.
Despite that, though, the Bruins failed to get on the board. And the Blues capitalized on that just a minute into the second period, when Ryan O’Reilly once again buried a goal from the goalmouth to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead.
A missed penalty call midway through the third led directly to the Blues’ second goal, and Jake DeBrusk’s one-time goal three minutes later was all the offense Boston could muster before taking the difficult loss.
That result had the Bruins disappointed for obvious reasons, but also because of the effort put forth by Chara.
“It shows the character that he’s got,” Marcus Johansson said. “He leads the team and everybody follows. Wish we could have got the win for him, going to have to do that next game. … It’s huge that he can play and that he goes in there and plays. It shows what kind of leader that he is. We’re going to take advantage of that next game.”
“We didn’t win,” DeBrusk lamented. “So it’s one of those things you wanna do it for a guy, but saying that, they got the result.”
Even the Blues were complimentary of the Bruins’ captain, with Craig Berube crediting Chara’s “warrior mentality” and defenseman Vince Dunn — who missed time this postseason after taking a puck to the face — noting the impact Chara made on the Bruins.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s a beast, he’s tall, he’s a big part of their team,” Dunn said. “I’m sure even playing the little minutes that he did tonight, it’s not something that he usually does, but I think that really gets the other guys going.”
Chara ended up with 16:42 of ice time, well down from his playoff average of 22:39 prior to the injury. He was also on the ice for St. Louis’ first goal, in an instance where either he or Charlie McAvoy should have stayed above the goal line to protect against a driving forward.
Still, Chara was active in the physical game, delivering a hit on Brayden Schenn on the opening shift of the game, one of four hits credited to Chara on the night. He got two shots on net, while blocking three shots and working on the penalty kill, too.
Had the Bruins won, it would have gone down as an iconic night in Boston sports history. Instead, the Bruins will be playing to keep their season alive in Game 6. But Chara’s teammates won’t soon forget the courage and commitment Chara displayed simply by suiting up for Game 5.