Saturday, March 24, 2012 Updated: March 25, 3:09 AM ET
B's win Zdeno Chara's 1,000th game
By James Murphy ESPNBoston.com
LOS ANGELES -- Zdeno Chara helped the Boston Bruins to a much-needed 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Saturday night in his 1,000th career NHL game.
While his teammates did their best to give their captain the win in his milestone game, Chara himself made sure he would get it. With the Bruins clinging to a 3-2 lead in the final two minutes, he blocked a shot that was headed into an open Bruins net and would have tied the game at 3. Tim Thomas (41 saves) did the rest with some last-minute stops and the Big Z had another big win under his belt in what is arguably a Hall of Fame career.
You can't say his 1,000th career game was an easy one for Zdeno Chara, who logged 23:16 of ice time.
Following the game, Chara was his usual humble self in crediting his teammates for the win and helping him enjoy such longevity.
"I'm so thankful to so many people and to be part of this team and a Bruin," Chara said. "I wanted to win this and no question I wanted to remember this game as a win. I couldn't ask for anything more and I'm humbled to play with so many great guys on this team."
The victory meant a lot to the Bruins and coach Claude Julien as well.
"I think everybody knows just how important it was to this team for us to win it in his 1,000th game and he's earned that respect around this team and he's earned the respect of the organization as well," Julien said. "The one thing I told the guys before the game is when you go through a milestone like that you want is to have a good souvenir and a win is what we needed here and we managed to get it."
Sitting in his dressing room stall alone after the game, a reflective Chara acknowledged that he got a bit emotional on the bus ride to the rink before Saturday's game as he thought back to his first NHL game with the New York Islanders in Detroit in November 1997.
"On the way here I thought about how it all started and it's a lot of games," said Chara, 35. "I caught myself thinking, 'Where did all the time and games go?' It's unbelievable because when you're playing it seems like it's a long season and long year but when you reach this kind of number you're like, 'Oh my God, it went so fast,' and that's what it tells you that you have to enjoy it, you have to do your best and have fun. It's going to go by fast and before you know it you have to hang your skates so I was thinking about that and how lucky I am."
But Chara -- one of the hardest off-ice workers in the NHL -- didn't get to this point in his career based purely on luck, as Bruins goalie Tim Thomas pointed out.
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"It shows how dedicated he is to making himself better and playing at the highest level all the time," Thomas said of Chara's strict workout regimen. "It's always quite an accomplishment and I think he's still got a long career left but he's already made a huge impact on the game. Maybe I am biased because I play with him but I think he's gotta be one of the best to ever play the game."
Chara said the key to maintaining that success and longevity has been to never get complacent and always be aware that at any moment an up-and-coming young gun could take his job. That has also made him realize just how lucky he was to win the Stanley Cup last season and he tries to convey that to his younger teammates.
"It's something we all play for, to win the Stanley Cup but a lot of young players don't realize how hard it is to stay in this league and reach that milestone," Chara said. "A lot of times young kids can take that for granted especially when they win the Cup early. They think 'I'm in the NHL and I'm on the team' but before they know it, every year there's a draft and every year there's new talent and players coming into training camp. There's always a lot of pressure to perform and I think that's what's always motivated me. I always want to be better and keep up with the young guys and be my best because before you know it, you might not be on the team anymore."
But as Julien pointed out to the media this past Friday, chances are that won't happen to Chara and at this rate, he may play another 1,000 games with the way he works on and off the ice.
"A lot of players when they've reached 1,000 games, you get the sense that they're getting near the end of their career and that's certainly not the case with him," Julien said of Chara. "He's such a well-tuned athlete that he's got a lot of years left in him and I wouldn't be surprised to see him head for another 1,000. He's an incredible athlete."