Blackhawks will try to be fast, physical against Chara
CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa believes he has devised a strategy to neutralize gargantuan defenseman Zdeno Chara.
Hossa doesn't claim to have this inside information because he lives across the street from Chara in Trencin, Slovakia; rather, he knows his Chicago Blackhawks will have their work cut out now that they're matched against the 6-foot-9, 255-pound captain of the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
"He's the biggest guy on the ice and his stick is so big that if you don't move your feet, he's going to hurt you," Hossa said. "He's going to come close to you and pin you on the board. You have to make sure you're moving your feet, stop and start."
The hockey world will learn if Hossa's plan is golden beginning Wednesday when the Bruins face the Blackhawks here at United Center in Game 1 of the championship series (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
Knowing Chara obviously will play a significant role, one way or another, in the outcome of this seven-game series. NHL.com sought the advice of several players on the Blackhawks for ways they feel they could neutralize or frustrate the big guy.
"I remember when I played in Philly and we came back from that 0-3 deficit [in 2010], one of the reasons was because we hit him often," Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo told NHL.com. "You don't have to try and kill the guy because you'll probably end up killing yourself, but if you hit him on the hands and take him out … take him off his game any way you can, that's the way you do it.
"He's a big guy, but he doesn't like being hit too much."
Chara may not like taking the hits, but he certainly enjoys dishing them out. His 53 body checks rank second on the team behind Milan Lucic (68). On top of that, he's earning almost 30 minutes of ice time each game while averaging 35.4 shifts per game, so he's proven immune to the pounding so far.
"When you target anyone in particular, one thing you're always trying to do is use physical contact to wear them down, but with a creature like Chara, that's easier said than done," Bruins rookie defenseman Torey Krug told NHL.com. "He's a tough guy to crack, so I'm looking forward to watching it. I get front row seats to watch those matchups."
Size is one thing, but Chicago's Patrick Sharp said he is impressed with another aspect of Chara's game.
"He's so big, physical and skilled, but the thing that impresses me the most about him is his work ethic and leadership skills," Sharp said. "He's a guy that if you happen to get him one shift, he's going to come back and play even harder. He's a tough guy to play against. But we've seen guys like that every series."
One of Chicago's key penalty-killers in the playoffs, forward Michael Frolik, said Chara is an exceptionable talent, but certainly not a one-man show.
"We just need to put the puck behind him and make him work and turn," Frolik said. "He's got such a long reach and is such a good skater, but we don't have to make any fancy plays … it's just making him work."
Carcillo was asked if he sees any similarities between Chara and Chicago's minute-munching defenseman, Duncan Keith.
"Well, they are both leaders and look like quarterbacks back there," Carcillo said. "Chara and Keith both keep players away from their side and influence decisions about line changes, so they are two really special players. But you can kind of hit Chara and get him off his game … that's what we'll be looking to do."
It's pretty obvious how the Blackhawks plan to manage Chara for at least one game. Still, the Bruins rank third with 571 hits, while the Blackhawks are fifth with 458.
"I think trying to wear him out is the key and you can do that through hitting and making him turn," Blackhawks rookie forward Brandon Saad said. "With our team, rolling four lines at our pace, we're hoping to come in waves and keep tiring him out."
Patrick Kane, the hero of Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final with a hat trick in a series-clinching 4-3 double-overtime victory, said Chara resembles one other player his team faced this postseason.
"I think the best example is probably [the Minnesota Wild's Ryan] Suter in the first round," Kane said. "There were times Johnny's [Toews] line would go out. He'd play the full shift. Then, myself, [Michal] Handzus and Sharp would come out. Suter would stay on the ice for our shift, as well."
Suter averaged 31:37 of ice time in five games against the Blackhawks in the conference quarterfinals. Chara has averaged 29:21 in 16 games.
"I don't think we've played anyone with [Chara's] reach so you have to be careful with the way he uses his sticks, deflects pucks on the power," Kane said. "We don't want to think too much about it, use our speed to our advantage on him and just try to play hockey."
In the end, and as Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville suggested, drastically changing the game plan that got his team to this point would be a mistake. It's all about little adjustments -- at least he hopes.
"Chara stands out as far as his presence on the ice defending against no matter what line," Quenneville said. "I think their group basically recovered health-wise over the last round or two and are back to the form they've been all year. They're mobile and have some big point shooters. I want to make sure we manage that in our own end.
"We want to make them play defense as best we can … spending time in their end and getting the puck behind them is going to be the challenge."
Both teams have been exceptional defensively. The Bruins rank first in the League in the postseason allowing 1.88 goals per game, while the Blackhawks are third at 1.94.