By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Given the way that the NHL set up its divisions and its postseason format this year, there was always a high chance that the Boston Bruins would be facing off against Zdeno Chara, their former captain of 14 years, come playoff time.
Sure enough, when the puck drops on the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday night in the nation's capital, the 6-foot-9 Chara will be on the ice, looking to squash his former team's Cup dreams before they can get off the ground.
"I think," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after Monday night's OT victory, "you look back to the start of the year, you probably could have guessed this was going to play out this way."
Indeed, there was little doubt that both the Capitals and Bruins would be making the four-team playoff field in the temporary East Division. The only questions involved playoff seeding and whether the 44-year-old Chara would stay healthy and effective in this, his 23rd NHL season. After the Bruins locked themselves into the No. 3 seed in the division, and after Chara skated 18-plus minutes per night while playing in 54 (out of 55) games for the Capitals, both questions have been answered.
"Obviously, playing Zee, that'll become a story line," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said Monday night.
Of course, the Bruins facing Chara has been a story line six times already this season. After a pair of games in Washington in late January/early February, Chara made his first trip to Boston as a visitor since the spring of 2006 when he played in an empty TD Garden in early March. Bruins fans -- albeit some 12 percent of the Garden's normal capacity -- were finally able to give Chara the ovation he deserved on April 11. But now that a playoff series is at stake, the ovations and the warm welcomes from Boston players and fans are likely over -- at least until the series concludes.
As for the impact Chara could have in terms of sharing intel on his former teammates, both Cassidy and Marchand believe that it will play some role.
"He knows when we're doing certain plays," Marchand said. "Obviously teams will do video and stuff like that, but he knows all the code names that we use, and typically the situations that we like to use them in. So even when we played them this season, we could see him talking to guys about the plays that we were gonna do. So I mean, it can definitely cause some challenges at times, but it's the playoffs. You've gotta work through that."
"I mean, he knows [Patrice Bergeron] better than anybody. And Marshy," Cassidy said. "He's seen 'em play for years, so I imagine he will give whatever information is necessary. In today's day and age, in video, there's a lot of ability to break it down for a staff. And sometimes having those little intricacies helps. So I'm sure he'll help there."
Chara did miss the most recent Capitals-Bruins matchup after taking a shot off the foot in the game prior. The two teams each won three games and lost three games when Chara played this year, and there's little reason to expect anything but a long, physical series between the two clubs when the postseason begins. Both Marchand and Cassidy spoke about the size of the Capitals, who employ Chara (6-foot-9, 250 pounds), Brenden Dillon (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and John Carlson (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) on the back end, with Tom Wilson (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), Anthony Mantha (6-foot-5, 234 pounds) and the ever-sturdy Alex Ovechkin (6-foot-3, 238 pounds) up front, among others.
And while the intel Chara can share may help Washington limit some of Boston's best players, Cassidy noted that the real impact Chara can make for the Capitals can likely come about in the form of leadership during this, the most important time of the year.
"As for impact on Washington, I mean, obviously they're a very good team," Cassidy said. "And I know he's gonna ... penalty kill, defending, playing against top people. But I'm not in the locker room so I don't know how much he's been able to influence it. I'm sure he has. He's a great leader, been around, and I think this is truly one of the reasons that they signed Zee is for this time of year coming up. So his impact probably hasn't even truly been felt yet. And we're gonna be the first ones to find out what it is."
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