Gerbe a big factor in win

Former BC star stands tall, scoring and taking on Chara

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / January 21, 2011

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Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe is 5 feet 5 inches, and Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is 6-9, and when the two went toe to toe last night during Buffalo’s 4-2 victory, it was more a case of nose to chest. There’s no denying Chara has a huge size advantage and though Gerbe is known as a difficult guy to play against — a tormentor, really — when he got into a shoving match with Chara in the third period, it seemed it might be an unfair affair.

But it was Gerbe who came up bigger last night: He scored Buffalo’s second goal, his third of the season, and his team won.

“I’m kind of a frustrating player to play against, I’m a little pest there,’’ said Gerbe, “so I just tried to get under their skin a little bit. It’s all in fun.

“[Chara] is a big guy; I don’t think I was winning the battle but it was definitely one to enjoy. I tried to hold my ground as much as possible. Just stand there. He is so strong and such a good defenseman. It’s fun to compete against him.’’

For the former Boston College star, who led the Eagles to the national championship in his junior year (2008), scoring at TD Garden was something to savor.

“You always get a lot of good memories here and a lot of good feelings,’’ said Gerbe, who won a Beanpot at the Garden, as well as two Hockey East titles. “You get chills up your body.’’

At 10:36 of the second period, Gerbe rifled a shot from the left circle into the top right corner of the net to tie the game at 2. Tyler Myers sent a pass across the slot from the right circle, and the quick move drew Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask out of position as he tried to follow the puck, giving Gerbe some space.

Gerbe is plenty comfortable shooting from the faceoff circles. Surely Harvard coach Ted Donato still has nightmares about the night Gerbe struck four times from edge of the circle. Notre Dame will never forget the NCAA final when Gerbe scored twice and assisted on two more in a 4-1 BC victory.

“It was a great play by Tyler Myers,’’ Gerbe said. “I just tried to shoot it as quick as possible.’’

Gerbe has 10 points in 29 games this season. He missed eight games with a fractured jaw and he was a healthy scratch for four games in early January. But lately, he’s been hard to ignore. He collected an assist in his first game back, Jan. 11 against the Flyers, scored a goal in the next game against the Hurricanes, and was singled out by coach Lindy Ruff for his effort in disrupting the Canadiens in the Sabres’ 2-1 victory Tuesday.

“You want to chip in as much as possible,’’ said Gerbe. “The guys have done a good job of making me feel comfortable, letting me play my game.

“It’s very satisfying to score here, even more satisfying to get the win, to get the 2 points. That was huge for us, so I hope we keep it rolling.’’

Gerbe’s sidewall scrum with Chara in the third was not his first run-in with the big Bruins defender; in the first period, with the Sabres on a power play, Gerbe staked out a spot in front of Rask, trying to provide a screen or a tip for the shooters at the points. Chara stood alongside, trying to move him out and the pair wrestled to a draw.

Chara, unaware that he was matching up against a former Boston collegiate hero, nevertheless was impressed when he took the measure of Gerbe.

“He battles hard,’’ Chara said. “He’s a smaller guy but he’s playing with a lot of heart; definitely, he competes.’’

It’s the kind of competition that draws out the best in Chara.

“Any time you compete as well as he does,’’ Chara stopped and thought, and then added, “Well, I like it, too. Battling and playing hard — that’s what makes this game.’’

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