Making it to another Stanley Cup Final at age 42 already cemented Zdeno Chara‘s legacy as one of the all-time great Boston Bruins, but playing throughGame 5 only added to his mystique.
(Remarkably, this wasn’t even the only time he’s bounced from a rather gruesome, bloody injury during this series alone.)
Merely suiting up as the Bruins went with seven defensemen and 11 forwards would have been enough for Chara to have a Willis Reed-style inspirational moment, and his courage was certainly noted by the fans in Boston:
Chara’s Game 5 differs from Willis Reed surprising the Knicks and Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals in two key ways. The one Chara is least happy about is that, while the Knicks won, his Bruins fell 2-1 to the Blues, who took a 3-2 series lead.
The other is that, while Reed’s return drew mythical status, his actual impact was overstated, as he merely sank two shots. Chara, meanwhile, put together the sort of performance that means he wasn’t just a token presence.
Chara logged 16:42 TOI in Game 5, including 1:21 on the penalty kill. During the nearly 17 minutes of game time, Chara delivered four hits, blocked three shots, fired two shots on goal, and earned a takeaway. Those aren’t exactly the stats of a passive observer.
Maybe more remarkably, Chara’s possession stats were strong; “The Big Z” was actually above 50 percent in stats like Corsi For for the first time since the Blue Jackets series in Round 2, according to Natural Stat Trick’s game logs.
Now, sure, you can nitpick if you’d like.
Chara did have a -1 rating in Game 5. It’s also fair to argue that his numbers, like those of other Bruins’ skaters, were likely inflated by how dominant Boston was at times on Thursday, and that the Blues never trailed.
But, overall, it’s impressive stuff.
It could be tough to top, too. On Friday, Bruce Cassidy noted that there might be some “residual” effects for the Bruins’ defense, so Chara’s status could still be something to watch. It’s also unclear if Matt Grzelcyk might be able to return for Game 6.
And even if Chara does play again in Game 6, it’s possible that he might not play as well as he did in Game 5. Sometimes, when it comes to athlete’s fighting through injuries – not just being hurt, but actual injuries – they’ll ride some adrenaline through a game, and then hit a wall as the grind continues.
So, this is all something to watch, yet that Game 5 performance just adds to the myth of Chara, even if the Bruins couldn’t manage a win.
Game 6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final takes place at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; stream here).
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.