One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…
The Bruins have to hope the kids are alright, because Zdeno Chara can only do so much.
That’s the situation at hand for Boston as it looks to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive year, starting Friday in an opening-round series against Detroit.
Chara is one of the league’s best defensemen, and it’s not a coincidence the Bruins’ fortunes started to turn shortly after he came over from Ottawa eight seasons ago.
That said, he’s now 37 and has endured a grueling stretch that dates back to the start of the condensed 2013 campaign.
As alluded to earlier, the B’s went to last year’s Cup Finals, meaning Chara had a shortened summer. Despite that, Boston has continued ply him an average of 24:39 minutes per game this year — and that was on top of his stint in the Olympics with Slovakia.
He’s performed superbly under the strain, but will it catch up to him? The possibility is higher now that we’re in the playoffs, where the intensity of the games increases and the Bruins are likely to ask Chara to play even more.
The Bruins have to hope fatigue won’t start to become a factor, because they’re missing the safety net that is defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Though not at Chara’s level, Seidenberg is a solid blueliner, a veteran presence and someone that can be trusted to step up in the postseason. With him out with a torn ACL/MCL, the B’s defense after Chara does have some question marks.
Boston’s attempts to fill the Seidenberg void were largely unsuccessful. It did acquire Andrej Meszaros and claimed Corey Potter off of waivers at the deadline, but those are complimentary defensemen rather than guys you want to lead in critical games.
As a result, the Bruins need to hope their young blueliners will help carry the load. That includes 25-year-old Matt Bartkowski, 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton, and 23-year-old Torey Krug.
All three received some playoff experience in 2013 and held their own, with Krug in particular sticking out, but this time will be different. They’ve established themselves as important parts of the blueline during the regular season and will consequently be asked to log significant minutes in key situations during the postseason. If Chara does start to show signs of wearing down, the young trio that will need to take on even more responsibilities.
If they can pull that off, the Bruins will have managed a seamless change of the guard on the blueline from the core of veterans that won them the Stanley Cup in 2011 that included Chara, Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Tomas Kaberle, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, to a new generation that will potentially carry Boston for years to come.
That shift to a new generation is necessary, even if injuries have forced the process to accelerate, but these changes often involve growing pains. The cost of the transition might end up being a quick exit from the playoffs in 2013 — despite their regular season success.
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