BostonBruins.com - Nearly every summer, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, an avid cyclist, rides stages of the Tour de France.
It has been well-documented that cycling has been a part of his training for years, and at times, when he’s watched as the Tour athletes come past, he has started running alongside the riders, trying to push them up the hill.
That’s what the Bruins captain does for his team every night - and it was very apparent on Thursday, when he logged 38:02 in ice-time, more than half of the game’s playing time, to lead all skaters on the ice, in the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers to take Game One.
The next closest skater was Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi with 32:05. The nearest Bruin was Patrice Bergeron, who logged just over 27 minutes on the ice (hefty in its own right, for a forward).
Just the game prior, ’Big Zee’ had logged 35:46 in the Game Seven win over Toronto. In both games, the Bruins were without veteran defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden. They needed their captain to step up and lead, even more than he does every night.
"That’s incredible, I don’t know how the heck he did it, because I was pretty tired at the end of the game," smiled blueliner Matt Bartkowski, called up from the Providence Bruins to help fill in on the back end with injuries. "I don’t how he felt, I don’t know if his legs were about to fall off or whatever. But that was impressive."
Bartkowski logged his own game-high of 26:42 in ice-time in Game One against the Rangers, but couldn’t imagine being able to sustain the same compete level for 38 minutes as Chara did.
"Because he’s able to log that many minutes and able to play his game for that many minutes, be able to contribute offensively and just be a force and be a physical presence defensively," said Bartkowski. "It’s awesome."
"We seem to talk about this guy almost every time because of what he is," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said of his captain, following Thursday night’s victory.
"[Thursday night] was one of those things where the little details make a big difference in the game. That poke check that [Zdeno] made at the right time, and then giving us a chance to come back and score was huge," added Coach, on the Big Man beginning the play that sent Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand racing up the ice for the eventual game-winning goal in OT.
"Zdeno does those things over and over, and that’s why I said to people that even though he hasn’t been nominated for a Norris, he’s been our Norris Trophy winner every year by the way he’s played, and the amount of time he’s played, and the players he’s played against."
"He continues to do that, and we appreciate that kind of play from him a lot. This is the kind of thing that you get from Zdeno, and [Thursday night] wasn’t any different."
In the Game One win, Chara took 13 shifts of over 1:00, well above the 45-50 second average ice-time per shift you’ll see most defensemen take in the NHL. He also logged two shifts of 2:35 and 3:43.
"I’m just trying to help the team as much as I can and whatever coach feels comfortable putting me out there for, I’m fine with that," Chara told media following the game, as he sat at the press conference podium, wearing the ’Player of the Game’ Army Rangers jacket that Patrice Bergeron had passed over to him minutes before in the locker room.
Not only are Chara’s minutes impressive, but also his impact on all areas of the ice. In the 3-2 win, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman put up nine shots on goal and lit up the TD Garden crowd with a shot that trickled its way past the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist to get the Bruins on the board first.
In doing so, according to Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first Bruins defenseman since Ray Bourque to score a goal and register nine or more shots on goals in one playoff game (one goal, 10 shots in a double-overtime game at Carolina in 1999). He’s only the third blueliner to accomplish the stat since 1999.
In addition to his goal, assist and nine shots, Zee also landed six hits on the Rangers.
"He’s a pretty special player. I don’t think you can really appreciate him until you play with him," said center Gregory Campbell, during a Bruins media availability session at TD Garden on Friday afternoon. "Zee, his work ethic on and off the ice, the way he carries himself, the leadership that he has."
"Especially now - he’s always the number one defenseman - but now with a couple young kids in the lineup, we have to rely on him even more, so if you can believe it. He’s a guy that plays against the top players every night and has a tough job to try to shut down guys like Rick Nash - you can go through the list. To have to shut down those guys and then produce at the same time is equally as hard."
"He’s a guy that our team really goes with when he’s playing well. He’s a leader on this hockey team for a good reason."
Look no further than the 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton, to understand just how much of an impact the leader has on the younger Bruins.
"I obviously heard a lot about how physically strong and how good of shape he was in. I don’t think you really can see that until you’re here with him and watch him on the ice, how hard he works," said Hamilton, speaking of the Captain with admiration. "I think that’s why he’s the leader of our team. I think everyone just has to keep up with him."
Keeping up with Zee is quite the challenge, though, and something the Bruins are happy that they don’t have to compete against outside practice.
"No," said Gregory Campbell, on if he thought he could sustain his level of play for 38 minutes in a game. "Those expectations are huge, but for him, the way he’s conditioned, the way he prepares and takes care of himself, he’s learned to be able to deal with those kinds of minutes."
This coming from a Bruin who may not play as many minutes, but certainly brings the same level of work ethic to the ice as Chara from shift to shift.
"It takes a certain breed of player to be able to handle that situation and that pressure and obviously, he does it successfully."
Zee may not be the most outspoken of the Bruins, but his leadership and dedication to the game extends to his comrades in the spoked-B. And even more so than his work on the ice, the Captain’s influence in the room has a tremendous impact on his team - especially, on the young blueliner, Dougie Hamilton, who may be 17 years younger than him but is mature much beyond his years.
In the locker room at TD Garden, Chara sits a stall away from Hamilton. At the practice rink in Wilmington, the two defensemen sit side by side. One can see that Hamilton grows and learns every day, just by being around the Captain.
"I think he knows how much I admire him and want to be like him," said Hamilton. "I think, for me, he’s always looking out for me, always telling me what to do. I think just to be able to have that, for me, is really good. Just somebody to look up to and try to be like."