Penguins must think big against Boston defenseman Chara
June 1, 2013 4:00 AM
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Boston's Zdeno Chara checks the Rangers' Carl Hagelin in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal May 21 in New York.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Time and space are a gifted playmaker's best friend.
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara wants to take those two things away from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- two players he called the best in the NHL -- when the Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final begins tonight.
"They are probably the best players in the game. There's no question about that," said Chara, who towered above reporters Friday afternoon in a hallway at the Omni William Penn Hotel.
"Anytime you can take space and time from any player, it's probably more difficult for them to do things. I'm sure we'll try to do that."
Chara shared very little about his particular plan to try to do so, as is usual this time of year, deadpanning with a very straight face: "I don't talk about what the game plan is."
Pressed on which player is more dangerous for a defenseman -- even one of his ilk -- Chara indicated there are differences, but they are negligible.
"It depends. I don't really keep track of stats, but they can be very dangerous both of them," said Chara.
The Bruins' 6-foot-9 defenseman is just one of the key factors in the series, which both teams are more than ready to start.
"It's been a good week but it's time for this series to get going," said Bruins coach Claude Julien.
Chara trails Kris Letang among defensemen in the playoff scoring with two goals, 9 assists.
But it's his size -- and reach -- that makes him among the most imposing defensemen in the NHL.
Just ask Matt Bartkowski, a Mt. Lebanon native who made his playoff debut for the Bruins in Game 5 against Toronto and has had a pretty decent vantage point.
"It's a little different. There's some tall guys. Like 6-4, then you have the giant out there," said Bartkowski turning to nod at Chara just a few steps away. "He takes up a lot of ice."
The Penguins have prepared for a physical game where space is at a premium, as the Bruins' mindset, not just Chara's, is set on playing physical.
"I go into every series expecting it to be pretty physical, not a lot of space," said Crosby.
"If you end up getting it, you've got to take advantage of it. That's basically the way it goes."
Exactly who will Chara be paired with on defense?
He has been with Dennis Seidenberg as the team's shutdown duo, but it's unclear if they'll be split up to deal with the Penguins' depth.
Will he be focused on Crosby's line or Malkin's? Also unclear.
"It's not a new thing to see that happen, see them break those guys up. A lot of circumstances in games against the Bruins they'll split guys up, wait for the matchup and try and have Chara step over the boards or step off the ice if they don't get the matchup," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
"They're probably the most fluid team and best team at doing it. ... I don't think there's another team that's close to them."
Either way, the Bruins said they are ready to go.
"Both teams have been in this situation before. I think I saw somewhere we have 18 guys who have their name on the Cup. They have 10 or 12. This series isn't lacking experience," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic.
"Guys want to get back to achieving the ultimate goal."