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Monday, December 12, 2011
Zdeno Chara leaves big void for Bruins

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Montreal Canadiens already had a 1-0 advantage over the Boston Bruins during the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last spring when the Bruins learned they would be without their top defenseman for Game 2.

Captain Zdeno Chara was hospitalized because of a severe case of dehydration the night prior to Game 2. His playing status was deemed a game-time decision and he briefly participated in the pregame warm-up before exiting the TD Garden ice. The Bruins and the team's medical staff did everything in their power to get Chara strong enough to play, but ultimately he was scratched and Boston lost 3-1.

Chara is considered one of the NHL's strongest players -- mentally and physically -- so for him to be unable to play means it had to be a serious situation.
Zdeno Chara
After playing without Zdeno Chara for only 12 games over the past five-plus seasons, the Bruins could be without their captain for a week.

There was even some question as to whether Chara would be ready for Game 3. He was, and the Bruins won the two games in Montreal and eventually the series in their first step toward hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Now the Bruins find themselves in a similar predicament as Chara is listed as day to day with a lower-body injury after appearing to have injured his left knee during Saturday's 5-3 win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

Chara did not practice with the Bruins on Monday and it's unlikely he'll be in the lineup against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Garden.

"There's no timeframe when I'm going to be back, but most likely I won't be playing," Chara said. "Honestly, it's in a stage where we can't talk about anything more than 24 hours ahead.

"The plan is to take a day at a time. You can't really put a timeframe on it. Basically, it's how it feels and it feels better than I expected."

Without Chara in the lineup, the Bruins need to stay the course and not deviate from the Xs and Os that coach Claude Julien has devised for the team's success.

"Z's missing so it'll leave a big void," fellow blueliner Dennis Seidenberg said. "That means we'll have to step up. He plays a ton of minutes and plays against the opposing team's first line, so we just have to do a good job of shutting them down."

The Bruins are 4-5-3 in the 12 regular-season games Chara has missed during his tenure in Boston. Despite not skating on Monday, Chara still was able to get in an off-ice workout.

The 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman is considered one of the iron men of the NHL, especially considering the amount of minutes he logs during the course of a grueling 82-game season. The fact that he's only missed 12 regular-season games in his six seasons in Boston is astonishing.

"It shows what kind of character guy he is," Seidenberg said. "He's a leader and he plays hard every night. For him to miss only 12 games -- that's unreal. He's had broken fingers, broken bones and he's been playing through them. But this one is tough to fight through and he'll be back soon."

Chara is a health machine. He works out religiously and only puts the best vitamins and nutrients in his body. Chara has even made the joke that the only time he's had alcohol was when he was sipping champagne from the Stanley Cup last spring.

"His endurance is good, obviously," Julien said. "He's a big, strong individual, so it takes a lot for him to get injured and miss some games. But that's not to say he's played without pain. He's played through that during his time here. He's a pretty reliable player and not too often do you see him out of our lineup."

Chara is all about winning.

In his first season with the Bruins (2006-07) he missed only two games. The following season he missed five. He missed a total of four games the next two season seasons, and missed only one game during 2010-11.

Tuesday will be Chara's first absence this season.

"I don't want to miss any games," Chara said. "I want to play as much as I can, and if it's possible, play all the games. Nobody wants to miss games and it's something I take a lot of pride in and anytime I can play, I'll play. Through injuries or sickness or whatever it is, but you also have to be smart because you don't want to do something that will cause serious problems or things that can hurt you in the future."

Chara is optimistic he'll be back sooner rather than later and the Bruins hope that's the case.

"He's an important player, but it's one of those things that every team goes through," defenseman Andrew Ference said. "The good teams with depth, a strong system and the confidence in what they're doing have an easier time dealing with those kinds of things. We're one of those teams that has that and [Chara's absence] won't be used as an excuse, that's for sure."

When Chara exited Saturday's game, the Bruins and Blue Jackets were knotted at 2-2. Boston scored two goals in the third period en route to victory and proved it can win without Chara.

"Guys played extremely hard in the third period, everybody stepped up and Tuukka [Rask] made some big saves," Chara said. "We scored some goals when we needed to and there's no question this team has so much depth and players who can step up their games."

Just because Chara will be absent from the lineup doesn't mean Julien will change the team's style of play.

"We don't believe in changing our game because one guy is out, or whatever the case may be," Julien said. "We play the same way. We just need guys to step up and be able to fill in some of the minutes he takes during a game, and that's as far as we'll go with an injury.

"When you lose a key player it's a big void, but other teams, including ourselves, have dealt with that in the past and there's nothing more you can do about it. To say he leaves a big void doesn't mean we can't fill it and that's the way we feel right now. We've got enough guys who can come in and do the job."

Steven Kampfer will be one of those players asked to do more.

The 23-year-old blueliner has played only five games, spending the majority of the season watching from the press box. He's played two games for the Bruins' AHL affiliate in Providence and is trying to stay sharp during practice.

"You're always ready to go, but obviously, you don't want somebody to go down to get a chance to play," Kampfer said. "You just have to play your game and help this team get some points. More importantly, we just have to play our game and get a couple of wins."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.