MONTREAL — If you’re 42 years old and still playing in the NHL, milestones big and small tend to come at you fairly often. But Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara was celebrating a pretty significant one Tuesday at the Bell Centre.
Chara, arguably the greatest free agent signing in the history of the NHL, was playing in his 1,500th game. And it mattered quite a bit to the big man.
“It’s a lot of games. Very humbled about it,” said Chara. “I have so many people that I should be thanking, obviously starting with my parents. They did such a great job of raising me and so much was sacrificed for me to play hockey. My family — my wife, my children — there are so many people. I’ve been very lucky. I’m grateful to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve gotten to know some very special people along the way, teammates, coaches. They’ve been tremendously helpful and I couldn’t be playing the game without them. It’s a special, special night.”
Chara said he’s been getting texts and video recordings from people across the league.
“It’s something I will cherish and remember the rest of my life. I’m very proud of it, too,” said Chara.
Not only must a player be blessed with good health to play 1,500 games, he has to be darn good, too, or coaches wouldn’t keep throwing him over the boards. Of the 20 players who’ve played 1,500 in the NHL, 14 are already Hall of Famers with a few more to come.
“To be honest with you, I try not to get caught up in the stats,” said Chara. “Like I’ve said many times, I’m enjoy playing. I love this game. The game gave me so much, on the ice, off the ice. I just enjoy every day, being with my teammates, going out to perform. I just love competing and I have an extreme passion for the sport.”
If the game couldn’t be played in Boston, Ottawa or on Long Island (his two other NHL homes), having it in Montreal presents a certain symmetry. There have been some great rivalry games between these two teams during Chara’s tenure. The one that may stick out the most is the one in 2011, when he checked former Canadien Max Pacioretty into the center ice stanchion. After that game, there were some folks in Montreal calling for Chara’s arrest and prosecution. That silliness abated, but the league did install the new curved glass after the hit.
Most of that hate took a brief holiday when Chara’s feat was acknowledged by the Habs during the second TV timeout, the applause eventually drowning out the boos.
Also, the Habs’ current coach, Claude Julien, was behind the B’s bench for a good chunk of those games played. It was also Julien’s 1,200th game coaching.
“It’s a big game and Montreal’s always been the team that’s played well against us, so I’m sure it’s going to be a good game. I’m glad it’s here,” said Chara.
Patrice Bergeron is the only Bruins player who has been there since Chara signed with the B’s in the summer of 2006.
“Obviously, he’s been the backbone of our defense for the last (12-plus) years,” said Bergeron. “He’s redefined the position with the way that he defends but also with the way he’s been able to put up offense with his shot. Obviously he’s well respected around the league but even more so in this organization with the players and also the city and fans. A true competitor and an amazing accomplishment.”
In his later years, he’s also served as a mentor to young defensemen, first with Brandon Carlo and now with Charlie McAvoy.
“What an unbelievable accomplishment,” said McAvoy. “He’s a special guy, a special player. I have to remember how lucky I am to be able to play with a guy like that, who has done so many things throughout his career and has meant so much to myself and this team. I couldn’t be happier for him. I’ll make sure to give him a big hug tonight.”
The B’s put Par Lindholm (upper body) on injured reserve and brought up Zach Senyshyn, who went onto the third line with Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork while Brett Ritchie dropped to the fourth line. Cam Hughes, who made his NHL debut on Monday against Pittsburgh, was a healthy scratch.
Senyshyn, the 2015 first-round draft pick, started slowly in Providence, but has played well lately.
“He’s been better lately, that’s one of the reasons he got the call. We knew we were playing some faster teams as well and it might be a good time for him to go in,” said Cassidy.
Stitch ’em up
McAvoy had a scary head-first crash into the post late in the B’s win over the Penguins on Monday but he reported he was fine. He just needed some stitches on the back of his head near his left ear.
“I was fine. I had to go get a couple of stitches and stuff and just kind of recollect myself,” said McAvoy.
Racking the stats
The statistical comparisons between this Bruins team and one of the golden ages of club history keep coming. With Brad Marchand‘s nine multi-point games and David Pastrnak‘s eight, they are the second B’s teammates to have at least eight multi-point games through 14 games. The other duo? You guessed it — Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, in 1974-75.