Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stanley Cup Chicago Stands Up to Bully, Closes in on the Cup

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stanley Cup Chicago Stands Up to Bully, Closes in on the Cup

Article excerpt

CHICAGO --

The Boston Bruins' captain, Zdeno Chara, is the tallest player in the NHL, and maybe the meanest, his reputation as intimidating as his 6-foot-9 frame. In the Eastern Conference finals, he delivered a punch to the chin of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, who had recently returned from a monthlong absence after jaw surgery. The Quebec government once held a criminal investigation into a hit he made on Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens.

Chara, 36, is also perhaps the premier defensive force in the NHL He was awarded the Norris Trophy as the league's top defender in 2009, and two years later, he helped Boston win the Stanley Cup.

He is a reliable workhorse; the last time he averaged fewer than 22 minutes of ice time was in 1998-99, when he was 21 and playing for the Islanders.

Before the Stanley Cup Finals began, Chicago Blackhawks players spoke of Chara's ability and strength as the leader of a defense that had allowed only two goals by the high-flying Penguins in a four-game sweep. His size, reach, knack for bullying and his ever- looming presence made him a force in front of the Boston net, they said.

Chicago, in deference to Chara, put its top forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, on different lines in an effort to give one a Chara-free matchup. The Bruins won two of the first three games and shut out the Blackhawks in Game 3 in Boston.

In Game 4, Chicago changed course. Toews and Kane were paired with Bryan Bickell, a big and physical forward, though he still gave up 5 inches to Chara. The Blackhawks also took a different tack with Chara, engaging him rather than running from him. Bickell was particularly aggressive, and Chicago's offense roared to life.

Chara was on the ice for five of Chicago's six goals and finished with a minus-3 differential, his worst in a game since January. Between Games 4 and 5, Toews brazenly suggested he and his teammates had a blueprint for neutralizing him. …

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