It was just five months ago when the Bruins and Zdeno Chara called it quits after a 14-year partnership that included a Stanley Cup championship and three fourth-round appearances over a nine-year stretch from 2011 through 2019.
But Chara’s 2021 season, and his first with the Capitals, ended much like the previous 14, with the 6-foot-9 defenseman hugging Bruins in a post-series embrace. Except this time around, the 44-year-old Chara found himself in enemy colors, and going home unlike his now-former Boston teammates.
And for some, even with No. 33 on the other side, it was an emotional goodbye.
“It was, obviously, a lot of emotion going through the line,” David Pastrnak admitted. “Zdeno is a guy that helped me grow up as a person and especially how to be a pro. So it was a little emotional, but [I] just can’t wait to catch up and hope to see him back home at the end of this. Like I said, the emotion was high, and I can’t thank him enough.”
Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara embrace in the handshake line. pic.twitter.com/LtYqSVnNvt— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 24, 2021
“We’ve had so many battles together,” Patrice Bergeron, who served as Chara’s co-captain throughout his 14-year run in Boston, said. “It was definitely different to play him in a playoff series. Obviously we played against each other all year, kind of helped getting used to it for the playoffs. But it’s always different this time of year. Try not to think about it and try to play your game and concentrate on what we can do as a team. And it definitely feel great to finish it off right away tonight.”
Bergeron’s businesslike approach was shared by both his team’s goaltender and B’s coach Bruce Cassidy.
“It’s normal,” Tuukka Rask said of the handshake with Chara. “I mean, it didn’t feel anything special. It’s just saying good job and that’s it. It’s after a game. So there’s not too many words exchanged there, but it was normal.”
“It was a quick, quick hello, basically,” said Cassidy. “That’s not the time. I’m sure I’ll have an opportunity to talk to Zee about the series.”
Deployed for almost 60 minutes of five-on-five action (and another 20 minutes on the kill), Chara was relatively effective in his D.C. showing this round, and rarely drowned with his matchup against the Bruins’ third line.
Chara's series— Bruins Stats (@bruins_stats) May 24, 2021
59 minutes 5v5
78-58 attempts WSH
43-22 shots WSH
3-2 goals WSH
0 mins PP
20 mins PK
It was enough to get Cassidy curious as to Chara’s thoughts on playing in a different system under Peter Laviolette.
“Listen, he played his game in the series,” Cassidy noted. “He had his long stick on the P.K. They play different than us. So Zee in a man-to-man system, he had been playing layers for a lot of years. So it’ll be interesting, to be honest, to have a conversation with him about what he thought because coaches are always tinkering. I like our system, but I’m just curious what he thinks because he’s been in both now and he does his job. He’s out there, banging. He had a good hit, I think it was on [Craig Smith] early on trying to send a message. So that’s Zee.”
But Zee being Zee didn’t stop the Bruins from trying to attack him and the rest of the Capitals with their speed.
“[I] didn’t get caught up too much in matchups,” Cassidy, who rarely put his super-powered first line out there against Chara, said after the series victory. “Just trying to take advantage of what we saw were opportunities to get through the neutral zone, force them to breakout pucks [and] that includes Zee. Him and Dillon are big, long guys. If you force them to turn their backs and go get pucks, there’s opportunities for turnovers and it’s tough for them get going the other way. We know they’re a transition team. So that was more of our focus on not only Zee but their whole D corps. And I thought our guys bought into it pretty well. Not a lot of mismanaged pucks in the series, especially after Game 1. And I think that helped us a lot.”
A free agent this offseason, it’s currently unclear what Chara’s plans are for 2021-22.
The Bruins are moving on to the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs after dispatching of the Washington Capitals in five games. Matt Dolloff and Ty Anderson of 98.5 The Sports Hub are here to break it down with another postgame podcast, which you can listen to above.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.