Zdeno Chara lived by the code Sunday night and stuck up for fallen teammate Tyler Seguin, then watched the right thing turn all kinds of wrong.
“He’s one of our better players,’’ said the towering Bruins captain, explaining why he defended Seguin and felt no choice but to put a beating on Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin. “But I’ll do it for anybody. It’s just [my] nature to react. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.’’
A noble gesture, even admirable reasoning by Chara, which is why the Bruins paid him more money than they ever paid anyone and made him their captain upon arriving on Causeway Street as an unrestricted free agent in July 2006. He is here for the little people, which, at 6 feet 9 inches, means he is here for everyone.
But being there for Seguin with 4:25 to go in the second period also meant ultimately handing the Habs 2 points, with gift wrap and bow.
What perturbed Chara in this instance, and put him over his high boiling threshold, was Emelin’s hack at Seguin in the neutral zone that dropped the talented forward momentarily. The hack broke Seguin’s stick, and left him stunned facefirst on the floor. Chara then met up with Emelin deep in Montreal’s zone, in a corner, and initially hoped that Emelin would oblige him and drop the gloves.
Emelin, of course, wanted no part of the Trencin Tower of Power. Chara sometimes takes on Slovakia’s top Greco-Roman wrestlers in the summer as a way of staying tuned up for September’s training camp. Emelin waited out his pending dance partner, and the result had Chara initiating the battle and ultimately getting tagged with 17 minutes in penalties — two for instigating, five for fighting, and a 10-minute misconduct.
Chara, as he has said many times, doesn’t like to fight.
“It’s not my first priority,’’ he said. “I like to play. I like to play hard and physical. I have no problem with it. But it’s not my first priority.”
The difference here, with the Bruins holding a 3-2 lead, was that he felt he had no choice but to make things square for his team. Seguin was down. There was no whistle. As captain, was he going to allow the Canadiens to come to Causeway Street, chop down one of the game’s budding stars, and not pay for it?
“I didn’t think I would get 17 minutes,’’ said Chara. “If he throws down, I’m thinking maybe I get two and five. But, I make the decision and I have to live with it. Obviously, we have to protect each other.’’
The added pain was that Chara was still in the penalty box, serving his interminable sentence, when the Canadiens struck for the tying goal (Max Pacioretty) and the winner (David Desharnais) in a span of less than four minutes in the third period. Without Chara on their backline, where he typically plays upward of 30 minutes a night, the Bruins are a different team. They go from championship-caliber to mid-pack in the Original 30, good enough to win some nights, bad enough to lose on an equal number of nights.
Behind the bench, Bruins coach Claude Julien knew his team was in a pickle. His club already was having issues in its end even with Chara back there. With the ex-Norris Trophy winner cooling his jets, Julien knew the night’s roller coaster was poised for a big drop.
“Well, it doesn’t help,’’ said Julien. “We’re a good enough team that that shouldn’t be a factor, and it wasn’t. We only gave them four shots in the third period, but two of them ended up goals. I thought we could have done a better job in the defensive zone tonight.’’
Julien used his postgame platform to vent over what he feels is Montreal’s propensity to embellish calls. He’s not wrong. Skilled defenseman P.K. Subban, who really has no need to fake things, was his typically histrionic self. For whatever reason, that has yet to change.
Adding to Julien’s ire, along with the loss of 2 points, was the fact that Emelin’s hit on Seguin went unpenalized. Had Emelin been whistled off, the Bruins, again with a one-goal lead, would have had a power play. Instead, the Habs had the man advantage and Chara had nearly a period’s worth of handcuffs wrapped around his mighty wrists.
“It’s as simple as that,’’ said Julien. “As everybody saw, there was a lot of embellishment. This is embarrassing for our game, the embellishing. They’ve got 100 power plays so far. It’s pretty obvious why. We’re trying to clean that out of our game. It’s got to be soon. Because it’s not about tonight. It’s about the game. The embellishment embarrasses our game. We need to be better than that.
“It’s pretty obvious, when P.K. gets hit, he throws himself into the glass and holds his head. You know what? We start calling those things for embellishment, maybe teams will stop doing it.’’
Thus closed another chapter in the decades-long harangue between two of hockey’s storied franchises. The seasons come, the seasons go, but the Bruins and Canadiens always find a way to infuse their Original Six partnership with more emotion, more bombast, more good stuff that 28 teams only wish they could share.
Sunday night, the Bruins got the worst of it, and mostly they could blame themselves. They were porous in their end, and Chara’s instinct, though right on the money, left them shortchanged.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.