Chara, Bruins fight way past Chicago
As a battered David Koci, Chicago's 6-foot-6-inch tough guy, slowly skated off with blood streaming down his face in the first period last night, Bruin Aaron Ward found himself doing something he hasn't done for quite some time.
Koci, he of 223 penalty minutes in 44 AHL games last season, found himself on the wrong end of more than a year's worth of frustration bottled up inside Zdeno Chara.
"I'm really excited for him," Ward said after Boston's 3-1 win over Chicago before 10,290 at TD Banknorth Garden, their sixth victory of the season. "I was here for seven weeks last year, and I know the pressure he's under to perform. It's tough to get a dance partner out there. But when he gets an opportunity like that, it's very apparent that he plays that role. That's months, if not a year's time, of tension and frustration. Unfortunately, that young man bore the brunt of the emotion that Z had pent up in there."
Last season, the Boston captain didn't log a single fight. But last night, at 11:42 of the first period, Chara squared off with Koci after a front-of-the-net scramble, steaming the Black hawk with several straight rights that opened up a cut on his forehead and injured a nose that had already been busted earlier this season.
Chara, who suffered a cut on his right hand during the fight, said he was merely doing his job, noting that fighting is part of the game. But his teammates and his coach - Claude Julien said the scrap gave the club some emotion - appreciated Chara's first drop of the gloves as a Bruin.
"I think Z's been itching to do that all year," said Andrew Alberts. "He stepped up to the plate and hit a home run."
Chara, who recorded his first fighting major since March 21, 2006, when he fought Pittsburgh tough guy Eric Cairns, wasn't the only Bruin with something to prove last night.
The resurgent Blackhawks came into the Garden with five wins, with rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews playing a big part in Chicago's early-season success. So far this season, the two Chicago kids, who are Phil Kessel's baby-faced contemporaries, have been the talk of the league.
Kane, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft, broke Kessel's goal-scoring records at the National Team Development Program, and entered last night's game with 13 points, seventh most in the NHL.
Toews, selected two slots before Kessel in 2006, had scored three goals before last night, none better than his ridiculous coast-to-coast dangle through the Colorado defense last Friday.
Kessel, the No. 5 pick of the 2006 draft, wasn't about to let the two Chicago boys claim all the glory.
In the second period, Kessel snapped a 0-0 tie. After the Bruins forced a turnover in their own zone, Kessel took control of the puck just inside the Boston blue line and broke up ice.
Kessel, marked by defenseman Jim Vandermeer, veered into the Chicago zone and snapped off a wrister that beat goalie Nikolai Khabibulin five-hole at 2:08.
Toews evened the score at 5:13 during a five-on-three power play (both Milan Lucic and Chara were in the box), elevating a wrist shot over Tim Thomas's glove.
But Kessel struck again in the second period, scoring perhaps the prettiest goal of the season. Kessel gained control of the puck at the red line and attacked a backtracking Magnus Johansson, faking the defenseman out of his skates with a head-and-shoulders pump to his right.
With Johansson trying to get his blades straight underneath him, Kessel found a seam on the left wing, faking a backhander and tucking a forehand shot through Khabibulin at 14:09.
"Great, great talent," said Glen Metropolit, who added a third-period goal. "He's a great one-on-one player. He's a game-breaker. He's the difference sometimes. When he wants to go, he can really go. Just watch him and enjoy it. That was a great move. He cut to the middle and slid it back inside his own feet. Great play. I thought the D-man almost broke his own ankles. The kid makes some moves out there that make you shake your head. Fun to watch. Just trying to learn from him."
After Kessel made it a 2-1 game and Metropolit tallied his goal in the third, the Bruins held on, relying on Thomas (27 saves) to keep his net clear for the rest of the night.
"Timmy was very good tonight," Julien said. "He's still the same goaltender we've seen since Day 1 - he battles, he competes, and he certainly gave us some big saves."