The fact that Zdeno Chara could play Game 5 is absolutely bonkers.
Chara has taken quite the beating in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, missing a game after blocking a shot off his foot against the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final and stopping a shot with his wrist in Game 1 of the final. But nothing was as severe as the close-range deflected puck from Brayden Schenn in Game 4 that hit ‘Big Z’ in the face, breaking his jaw. Blood littered the ice, with the game taking a short pause to clean up the mess. Chara looked like a man who just got out of a war.
The Bruins ended up dropping the game to St. Louis, but Chara did return to the bench with a full-face mask – though he didn’t actually step foot on the ice. For a guy as tough as the 6-foot-9 behemoth, just being on the bench was pushing it, especially when the Bruins entered the game with a 2-1 series lead.
Both Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk on the ice for the Bruins morning skate. Might be a ruse, be incredible that Chara is even out there.
— Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell) June 6, 2019
Chara is the embodiment of toughness. He’s the most feared defenseman in the NHL, for heck’s sake. And now he looks set to play in Game 5 with the series tied at two. Should he be in the lineup? At 42 years old, this may be his last shot at a championship, but, again, he’s 42. He doesn’t need to be putting himself on the line in a situation where the Bruins will play six games, regardless of what happens. If he were to sit out Game 5, he’d have nearly a week to rest his jaw. Not that it would be able to heal in that time frame, though.
The Bruins aren’t strangers to having stars play with severe injuries. In 2013, centerman Patrice Bergeron played nearly 18 minutes in Game 6 of the Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks with a broken rib and a separated shoulder. One more hit and he would have crumpled up faster than an accordion. The Bruins didn’t win the game and ultimately lost the series, but that was the definition of truly putting yourself on the line. In that same series, Bruins forward Nathan Horton had to deal with an injured shoulder, only missing a portion of one game before finishing off the playoffs.
Two years later, Duncan Keith had to overcome a knee injury to help the Chicago Blackhawks win the 2015 Stanley Cup over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Keith took home the Conn Smythe Trophy for his play and became just the second player to do so after scoring the series-clinching goal. It was one of the more courageous efforts in recent playoff history, but one with big consequences: he’d miss some time over the next two seasons to deal with the repercussions of his meniscus tear and hasn’t played at the same level since. If you want to get even more recent, Nick Bonino (broken tibia) and Ian Cole (broken hand and ribs) were taped together to help the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Cup just two years ago.
Looking a little further back, Trevor Linden will forever be idolized in Vancouver, even if his time in the Canucks’ front office was less than spectacular. But it was the determination to deliver a Stanley Cup to the city back in 1994 that fans will never forget. Linden played the final four games of the Stanley Cup final with cracked ribs and torn rib cartilage, recording four points in that span, including two goals in Game 7. It wasn’t enough to help the Canucks take down the New York Rangers, but it was a valiant effort, nonetheless.
But there may not be a better example of fighting through pain to secure the ultimate victory than what Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bobby Baun did in 1964. Baun blocked a shot with his ankle late in Game 6 against the Detroit Red Wings. Baun needed a stretcher to take him off the ice. There was no way he was going to return, considering the game was nearly done… or was it? Baun returned for overtime with a fractured (and frozen) ankle, and before the extra frame was even two minutes old, Baun scored the goal that forced Game 7, where the Leafs would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
So, if Chara does end up playing Game 5, he won’t be the only player to fight through immense pain to play for a shot at glory. Whether or not it’s a smart thing to do is up to opinion, but Chara wouldn’t be in consideration to play if he and coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t think the Bruins captain was good enough to go.
Because it’s the Cup? Sure, but regardless of what happens, let’s hope he doesn’t hurt himself further.
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