On hockey

Keeping Chara in front could make a powerful difference

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / May 26, 2011

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TAMPA — If the Bruins do win the Stanley Cup next month, their first since 1972, the engraver might be directed to etch one bold asterisk next to their names on the big silver trophy:

“* — Accomplished with one hand tied behind their backs.’’

Such is the state of the Boston power play, which actually scored a goal last night (click here for the “Hallelujah Chorus’’) in a 5-4 loss to the Lightning that set up Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals tomorrow night at the Garden. And it was the power play that remained the biggest single difference — and for the Bruins, the largest embarrassment — between these two Cup-dreamin’ teams.

The Bolts went a sizzling 3 for 4 on the man-advantage, helping them to erase a 2-1 deficit, and they are now a playoff-best 17 for 67 (25.4 percent) in the postseason. They are quick, bold, and confident on the power play.

The Bruins stumbled their way to a 1-for-5 on the advantage, actually a slight improvement over the last three games, in which they went 0 for 9. They are now 5 for 61 (8.2 percent) in the second season. They are the face of futility each and every time a referee raises his right hand to signal a penalty against the other team.

“Obviously, it was a difference-maker,’’ noted Boston coach Claude Julien. “They scored three times on the power play and it took us a long time to get one. That certainly dictated the game.’’

The larger concern for Bruins: Will the power play, or lack of it, ultimately spell their doom?

It took Julien until Game 5 of this series, midway through the final period, to move his resident big man, 6-foot-9-inch Zdeno Chara, to the front line of the power-play attack. It looked better that night, and it looked better again last night, with Chara looming large at the left post when David Krejci (hat trick) popped in the first Boston power-play goal in four games with 9:46 gone in the third.

Chara may not be a secret weapon (tough to characterize a guy who stands 7 feet in skates as a secret), but right now he looks like the only answer. He looked that way from early on and throughout the Montreal series, then again in the Philadelphia series, and then still in this series until Monday night. But Julien kept him strictly on point patrol.

Is Chara nimble around the net? No. Does he have quick hands and a tricky stick? Absolutely not. He looks awkward up there at times, an accidental tourist sur glace.

But he is a presence, and last night he gave Tampa’s Dwayne Roloson something to worry about, which is something goalies haven’t had to do much when facing the Boston power play this spring. Like New England weather, the Bruins have been all wet when they should be hot.

“I’ve had to play that role before,’’ mused Chara, the captain, whose team will need a double dose of leadership, and maybe a pair of power-play goals to match, tomorrow night. “I try to create traffic, do what I can do to create something.’’

With Chara up there, even though the move has led to only one goal thus far, the Bruins at least have some shape to the attack. In his first foray up there last night, they held the offensive zone for a stretch of 1:40.

Frequently this postseason, they’ve been unable to hold the zone for more than 10-15 seconds at a time. During some power plays, as in the Flyer series, the Bolts have flushed them out of the attack zone four, five, six times.

“It was better,’’ noted point man Dennis Seidenberg. “Today was a first step, but we have to be better.

“[Chara] takes up a lot of room out there. I think we have to exploit him a little more, find ways to get the puck to him.’’

Getting it to Chara will help. Just getting it near him will be progress. When he is parked near the crease, it takes both defenders low in the box to corral the Trencin Tower of Power.

To this point in the postseason, if he has been a secret, he’s been the one the Bruins have kept from themselves. Julien has waited patiently, waiting to see some pop from a variety of five-man combinations, only to reach into a pocketful of promises and pull out lint, pennies, and paper clips.

Meanwhile, the Boston penalty killers were far too charitable, stung three times on four kills, after going 9 for 9 in the previous three games (against the hottest PP unit in the playoffs). Last night was a lesson in discipline lost, even if Julien felt, as he noted more than once in his postgame briefing, that not all the penalties against Boston were proper calls.

“We have to stay disciplined against a team like them,’’ said Patrice Bergeron, one of the Bruins’ top killers. “They are so good on the power play. Stay out of the box. Stay disciplined. That’s the key.’’

Chara, agreed Bergeron, brought a lift to the power play.

“He creates room in front of the net,’’ he said. “He’s strong up there. I thought it worked well with him.’’

It’s a start. But is it too late? The Boston power play was mediocre all season, then turned totally sour in late February, ironically after the acquisition of point man Tomas Kaberle (two assists last night). Now it looks as if they have a point man who might turn it around, but it’s Chara, forced to make a late-in-the-play career change.

“He did a great job in front,’’ said Julien. “That’s something we need to capitalize on.’’

For starters, tomorrow night would be a fine time, while the engraver remains on duty, with that asterisk ready stamp next to the Spoked-B.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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