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Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty difficult to defend

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 9, 2011 07:37 AM

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Let us begin with the simple fact that Zdeno Chara had every intention of running Max Pacioretty into, as Carey Price called it "the turnbuckle." What Chara did not expect was for Pacioretty to clip the glass the way he did, his head struck at such a frightening angle that Pacioretty was carried away on a stretcher.

Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty

Go back and look, folks. Last week against Tampa Bay, Milan Lucic executed a similar hit on Dana Tyrell late in the first period [hit takes place with :25 seconds left in the first period in video]. Tyrell hit the turnbuckle, too. The difference was that Tyrell got up and nobody was carried off, and so we all celebrated the hit and cited it as an example of playoff-caliber hockey.

That hit was as every bit as ill-advised as this one. And so shame on all of us for focusing on the end result instead of the event that led up to it, which undoubtedly will result in Chara receiving some sort of well-earned, multi-game suspension.

If Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban had delivered this kind of blow to, say, Patrice Bergeron, we would all be up in arms. We would be demanding justice. We would be calling Greg Campbell's old man an incompetent coward, as we have done before, and we would be lamenting the plight of another fallen Bruin.

Does this mean Chara is a dirty player? No, no, no. A thousand times no. It just means he made a bad decision at a bad time and got a terribly unfortunate result, particularly given the circumstances leading up to an event that will recycled, over and over and over again, should these teams meet in the playoffs.

Fact: Circumstantial or otherwise, Chara's recent history with Pacioretty only makes this look worse. On Jan. 8, after the Bruins had blown a 2-0 lead at the Bell Centre in the final minutes, Pacioretty scored in overtime and then pushed Chara, who responded angrily and with aggression. The jousting continued in Boston last month during the Bruins' emotional and chippy 8-6 win. Entering last night, Pacioretty had six points in four games against the Bruins this season.

And then there is this: At the time of Chara's hit, the Bruins were getting skunked. The Canadiens held a 4-0 lead. Frustrations were mounting. Montreal was skating circles around Boston, and Pacioretty would have blown by Chara on the left side had the Bruins defenseman done anything but derail him.

These are professional hockey players we're talking about. They have spent a lifetime on the ice and in the rink. If they don't know their surroundings by now, they should.

"Things happen quickly," Canadiens forward Lars Eller told reporters after the game. "You make decisions out there. Unfortunately, Chara made a bad one. I think he knew the glass was starting there. Hopefully he won't do that again. We just hope Max will be all right."

Said Canadiens goaltender Price, "Everybody's aware of what's what out there. I don't care what anybody says, you're aware of your surroundings. It's your job out there to know what's where. But the game does happen fast. He's a big guy, he's a big physical presence, and he can hurt somebody if somebody's not paying attention. Physical play is part of hockey, as long as it's in the rule book."

To their credit, the Bruins said the right things after the game. Chara said he was not trying to hurt Pacioretty. (Only Chara knows for sure, but this is almost certainly true.) Coach Claude Julien expressed concern for Pacioretty's well-being. To its credit, an NHL officiating crew headed by referees Eric Furlatt and Bill McCreary, postponed the final seconds of the second period until after intermission, allowing both teams to regain some composure before returning to play.

In Chara's case, he was issued a five-minute penalty along with a game misconduct, ending his night. Generally speaking, throughout the league, he is widely respected. Chara's reputation should count for a great deal in this case - and it will - but the NHL's increasing sensitivity to head injuries makes him a target for discipline as surely as it would anyone else. He made a poor choice. He must pay the price.

In the bigger picture, the Bruins have other things to consider. Over the last couple of months in particular, physical play has been an important part of their success. If the Bruins are to have any chance at winning a Stanley Cup this spring, it must continue to be so. The Bruins now have lost two straight in the wake of their inspiring seven-game winning streak, looking heavy-legged and sluggish in defeats to the Penguins and Canadiens. Maybe a letdown was inevitable. Maybe they eased up.

Whatever the case, the Bruins are back on the ice tomorrow night against Buffalo, then head on another road trip, this one a four-gamer that includes games with the Islanders, Blue Jackets, Predators and Maple Leafs. Chara will miss some or all of that trip. When the B's finally return, they will be within days of another game against these pesky Canadiens, who have beaten them on 4 of 5 occasions this season and 9 of 11 overall, who will not go away in the Northeast Division, who now have a reason to seek vengeance.

Let's hope Max Pacioretty is playing hockey again by then.

Let's hope Zdeno Chara has served his time and learned a lesson.

And let's hope that the Bruins do not allow something like this to alter the way they must play in order to be successful, particularly if they see these Canadiens again beyond March.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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