ST. LOUIS – There’s a pretty good chance the Boston Bruins know, and have known for the past day, whether or not defenseman Zdeno Chara is going to be available to play for them in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final. The fact he participated in the morning skate might be nothing more than elaborate ruse to throw off the St. Louis Blues. Or he may legitimately be able to play. Only the Bruins know the answer to that question.
But just the fact that Chara participated in the morning skate Thursday is remarkable in and of itself. Stories or Chara’s preparation and work ethic are legendary, so it’s likely that wild horses would not have been able to keep him on the ice for the morning skate. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said the decision on whether Chara, whose jaw was broken in Game 4, can play will be left up to the doctors and if he’s cleared, it will be up to Chara himself. In other words, if he’s cleared, he’s playing.
“At this time of the playoffs, everyone has injuries and there are challenges that you have to overcome to play,” Chara said after the morning skate. “I’m no different than any other player on either team.”
Oh, yes he is. He has a broken jaw. There’s a good chance there’s not a single player on either roster who isn’t playing through some sort of malady at this point. But any player who has played through this kind of thing will tell you how difficult it is. First, you can’t fuel your body the way you’d like. Second, if your jaws are wired shut, there are breathing issues. Then there’s always the danger of getting hit again and being in even more agony, not that Chara is even considering that.
“You don’t think about that,” he said. “You think about playing. You don’t go into a game thinking you might get hurt.”
(Background note: Chara was asked two questions by the Bruins’ media relations department on behalf of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and he actually physically spoke the words, so at least he can move his jaw.)
Chara’s teammates, who have either seen or heard stories about Chara’s preparation and will, were not terribly surprised to see him participating in the morning skate. Nor would they be the least bit shocked to see him suit up and take a regular shift on defense.
“I don’t think it surprises anyone to see him out there,” said Bruins winger Brad Marchand. “He wants to win more than anything and he shows that every single night. You never know what he’s playing through because he keeps everything quiet to himself. He’s not worried about complaining about injuries. He’s willing to play with one leg, one arm, it doesn’t matter. You can’t teach that, you can’t push that on people. It’s either in you or it’s not.”
Perhaps just as important to the Bruins’ fortunes is whether or not Grzelcyk can play. He has proved to be a valuable third-pair defenseman for the Bruins and is a good puck mover. To have both Grzelcyk and Chara available would be a boon to the Bruins, but even if both play, there’s still a chance Cassidy will elect to go with seven defensemen as a form of insurance. Just to be clear, everybody is guessing here. There were people who watched Grzelcyk speak to the media Thursday morning who were convinced he won’t be cleared to play, that the lights seemed to be bothering him and that he seemed to speak slowly. Listen, it’s the Stanley Cup final and every little nuance is going to be dissected.
If the Bruins do go with seven defensemen, they’ll be short one forward, with David Backes likely coming out of the lineup. That poses more of a challenge for Cassidy than it does for the players who just go out and play when they’re sent out on the ice. The most likely candidates to get more work are David Pastrnak, Marcus Johansson and perhaps Danton Heinen, none of whom kill penalties and can play either wing.
“We’re comfortable with a guy getting a few extra minutes,” Cassidy said. “It gets taxing if you get into extended time, but we can’t worry about overtimes. We’re just going to play the guys who deserve to get a little extra time.”
The Blues, meanwhile, have a roster change of their own for Game 5. With Vince Dunn coming in for Game 4, the Blues elected to scratch Robert Bortuzzo and keep Joel Edmundson in the lineup, with the logic being that they weren’t sure how much Dunn would be able to play and Edmundson more suited to playing big minutes. But Dunn passed with flying colors and with the combination of Edmundson struggling and the desire to balance right and left shots on the blueline, Edmundson comes out and Bortuzzo goes in.
“We weren’t sure with (Dunn) so we kept another lefty in there,” said Blues coach Craig Berube. “I thought he had a really good game and if we can have a righty-lefty combo, that’s nice, so ‘Borts’ goes back in.”
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