On hockey

Chara’s hit a benchmark moment

Boston captain Zdeno Chara delivers a message with a check that nearly lands the Sabres’ Tyler Ennis in the Bruins’ bench. Boston captain Zdeno Chara delivers a message with a check that nearly lands the Sabres’ Tyler Ennis in the Bruins’ bench. (Barry Chin/ Globe Staff)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 18, 2010

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BUFFALO — The Bruins’ postseason fortunes began to change slightly, almost imperceptibly, yesterday when Zdeno Chara air-mailed one of the Sabres’ tiniest dancers, 5-foot-9-inch Tyler Ennis, toward the Boston bench. Ennis, left belly down on top of the dasher, both skates a couple of feet off the ice, looked like a hood ornament stuck curiously above the grille of the wrong car.

“You have to step up,’’ said Chara, moments after the Bruins pulled even, 1-1, in their best-of-seven playoff series with the Sabres with a 5-3 come-from-behind victory at HSBC Arena. “You have to lead the way.

“It’s just the nature of the business. This time of year, you have to put everything into every shift out there . . . and it’s not just me, it’s everyone.’’

It was just Ennis’s bad luck that left him as the symbol of the turnaround. He was the last Sabre with the puck as the final seconds of the first period clicked off, and it was a frustrated Chara who targeted him to be the recipient of those postage stamps.

The clock read 0:00. And the scoreboard read 2-0 in Buffalo’s favor. Once again, like countless times throughout the 2009-10 season, the Bruins opened with a tepid first period and were working in arrears as early as 2:55, when Tyler Myers knocked home his first career playoff goal.

“We weren’t happy with our first period in both games,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “It was important for us to bounce back.’’

The turnaround began to pick up traction only 2:35 into the second when Michael Ryder (two goals, three shots, finally an awakening?) gave the final tap to a Vladimir Sobotka shot that popped up and over Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

Then it was Chara, in a rare display of abandoning his defensive position to go on the attack, who smacked in a shot from the left circle to tie it, 2-2. A Johnny Boychuk shot turned into a Patrice Bergeron deflection/pass, which turned into Chara left with a wide-open left side of the net.

“I touched it, that’s all, and it went to Z. I actually got lucky there,’’ said Bergeron, deflecting any credit for deflecting the shot over to Chara. “Miller’s such a great goaltender. He makes the tough saves. We just have to keep getting pucks on the net and find rebounds because he’s obviously going to make the first stops.’’

There was no stopping Chara’s shot, because Miller had yet to close off that side of the net by the time the puck made it to Chara’s stick.

With 89:54 of the series played, the Bruins were back to even, the Sabres having led for all but 12:27 of the two games. And with 3:19 left in the second, the Bruins were in arrears again, 3-2, when Jason Pominville took advantage of a Milan Lucic miscue (second of the day) along the wall and swooshed in for the go-ahead strike at the left post.

Again, though, it was a Ryder-Chara 1-2 punch that not only brought the Bruins back but put them ahead for the first time in the series. Ryder connected at 5:23 of the third, aided by Andrew Ference’s jump into the play to create some havoc in front of Miller. Only two minutes later, Chara cut off a Buffalo clearing attempt and flicked a shot from the blue line that sailed its way through a crowd and past Miller.

“Just got it at the net,’’ said Chara, connecting on what was the least intimidating of his four shots.

The game, and perhaps the series, turned on a number of factors, not just the spring fling Chara made of Ennis, who is listed as 163 pounds (a Google search found that that is the average weight of most sportswriters upon entering middle school). If that weight is accurate, he is 92 pounds lighter than Chara, as well as 12 inches shorter, which helps explain why he ended up on top of the boards, legs and arms flailing, a Looney Tunes-like symbol of Boston’s frustration.

“We always want to make sure we are in control of our hits,’’ noted Julien. “[Chara] obviously sent a message right at the buzzer. A big hit, sent a message . . . and we played solid after that.’’

Of course, it might be a much bigger deal that the Sabres lost one of their greatest scoring threats, Thomas Vanek, when he slammed into the rearboards in a pileup with Boychuk with 6:21 left in the first period. Ennis logged 15:09 of ice time (not credited for his time stuck atop the boards). The Vanek injury helped turn it around for the Black and Gold — a prime example of how sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that count the most.

Another huge factor was the Bruins’ overall approach in the offensive zone. They made it hard for Miller to see shots. They weren’t nearly as predictable with their attempts. They didn’t keep firing into his midsection with creampuffs from the slot. They woke up, got their feet moving, created a little havoc in the slot, and jumped on their charter flight owning home-ice advantage in the series. Ennis, of course, took a different flight.

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