How Bruins are preparing for possibility of playing without Zdeno Chara

Evan Marinofsky
June 05, 2019 - 5:13 pm
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The Bruins weren't about to give away all the details regarding Zdeno Chara's status after Wednesday's practice. When Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask and Matt Grzelcyk were asked at the podium about how he was doing, Bergeron was quick to jump in and shoot down any possible chances at information. 

"We haven't seen him," said Bergeron. 

Bruce Cassidy said they'd communicated via text and "not much" was said. 

Despite the lack of info given out from the Bruins' fortress, they jumped at the chance to give their thoughts on the fallen captain. 

"It was tough for me between periods when we were told he wouldn't be able to play because he wants to play," said Cassidy. "If he was given the green light, no matter what the severity was, he'd be out there. We know that about Big Z." 

Bergeron echoed that sentiment. 

"We're supportive of him," he said. "Definitely feel bad when something like that happens. It's pretty impressive the pain threshold that he has. I think we're sending positive vibes and supporting him. And of course when you lose your captain, you try to step up and be good for him and it's the same thing right now. We're all on each other and supportive of each other." 

Christian Fauria reported on Ordway, Merloni & Fauria on Tuesday that Chara has a broken jaw, and he added on Wednesday that there's actually still a chance Chara plays in Game 5 Thursday night.

"Our mentality will be fine in terms of being able to win without certain players now if we're talking about Z," said Cassidy. "We've done it. We've been there, we've done it. Not in the Finals of the Stanley Cup but we did against Carolina in the clinching game. We're up 3-0 so maybe there's more going on there. We did it without McAvoy Game 1 against Carolina. We've done it without Bergy this year." 

But losing Chara in the middle of the Stanley Cup Final would be a massive blow to the Bruins' defensive scheme. The Chara-McAvoy pairing has mostly gone up against the Blues' top line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko. The Bruins don't have anyone waiting in the wings who could step in and face that kind of task.

One silver lining is the possible return of Matt Grzelcyk, who returned to practice Wednesday in a red no-contact jersey but has still yet to be officially cleared as he goes through concussion protocol.

If Chara and Grzelcyk both can't go, one left-shot option who's been floated is Urho Vaakanainen. If the 20-year-old were to get the nod as one of the defensemen the B's roll out, it would only be his third career NHL game and his first playoff tilt. 

"He's on the outside," Cassidy said of Vaakanainen. "That was an option. If both guys are out, we've kind of gone through them all. We're getting into a little bit of hearsay or speculation. That would be a big ask. But if that's the way we have to go, that's the ask we got to make. Right now that's a long shot especially seeing Grzelcyk out there." 

Cassidy doesn't really feel the timing is right for Vaakanainen to make his playoff debut. 

"I don't know about the inexperience," he said. "It's just the stage where we're in Game 5, this type of series. Earlier in the playoffs maybe it'd be a little different for a guy to get acclimated but we're so far along now where it'd be difficult. You're almost at the point now where maybe you just ask guys to play more minutes." 

At Wednesday's practice, the Bruins' D pairings were Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo, John Moore-Charlie McAvoy, Connor Clifton-Steven Kampfer, and Vaakanainen-Grzelcyk. But no matter how the Bruins roll out their defensemen come Thursday night, it won't impact the Blues' plan of attack. 

"It doesn't matter," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. "They've got a good D corps over there so it doesn't really matter. We'll prepare the same way." 

Chara's been a big reason the Blues haven't found success on the power play yet in this series. Through four games, the Blues are 1-for-13. Without Chara, there would be a huge hole for the Bruins to fill on the penalty kill in the middle of a Stanley Cup. 

"He's obviously a great player, playing really hard, playing really strong," said Vladimir Tarasenko of Chara. "He's their leader. But we try to focus on us more and what we need to deal with and we have a gameplan we need to follow and try to get focused on our team more." 

Craig Berube confirmed that they're preparing how they always do. 

"But we prepare that he's going to play," he said. "I don't think the preparation changed if he plays or if he doesn't play. We just got to be ready to go whether he's in or out. That team over there is very good. They're going to be hungry, they're going to be desperate. We got to come with that desperation and that hunger too and not worry about whether Chara's playing or not. We all know how tough Chara is; he's a warrior and stuff so I wouldn't doubt it if he plays. But if he doesn't play, we got to keep our focus and have the same gameplan."

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