As the man who withstands the brunt of his bombs in practice every day, Tim Thomas knows how it feels when Zdeno Chara steps into a shot, rattles off one of his triple-digit heaters, and plants a puck somewhere in the goalie's equipment.
"What do I do in practice?" Thomas asked. "I tuck my chin into my neck, turn into a turtle, and hope he misses."
Yesterday, Thomas got a reprieve from the receiving end of the Chara boomer. Instead, it was New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist who had to stare down the 6-foot-9-inch captain and try to keep his shot out of his cage to prevent the Bruins from claiming a shootout victory.
With Phil Kessel having scored on Boston's second shootout attempt, Chara put an end to yesterday's matinee. Once Chara reached the high slot, he ripped a slapper through Lundqvist to give the Bruins a 4-3 victory before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden.
The Bruins, who have a rematch with the Rangers today at Madison Square Garden, have a 1-point lead over New York in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"I think everybody in the building probably knew what he was going to do," said coach Claude Julien, whose team entered yesterday with a 1-3 record in the shootout. But he still got the job done."
It was one of those games in which Chara, deployed against New York's top line of Scott Gomez, Jaromir Jagr, and Martin Straka, wasn't his bulletproof self on defense, finishing the game with a minus-2 rating. In the first period, Chara and partner Dennis Wideman were on the ice when Gomez took a pass from defenseman Michal Roszival and slipped a puck behind Thomas at 6:36 for the opening goal.
Then in the third period, after Marco Sturm and Chuck Kobasew had given the Bruins a 2-1 lead, Chara couldn't handle a puck, and the turnover led to New York's tying goal. On the play, Gomez floated a cross-corner dump into the Boston zone that Chara went to retrieve.
But the puck took a slight bounce off the boards and tied Chara up. Jagr pounced on the puck, wheeled around Chara, and threw a fake on Thomas that sent the goaltender to the ice, allowing the winger to tap a shot into the open net to tie the game at 2-2 at 3:27 of the third period.
"I'll take the blame for it," said Chara. "I was the closest guy on the puck."
But Chara, who assisted on Kobasew's second-period power-play goal, was bent on contributing at the other end, nearly giving the Bruins the win in overtime.
With two minutes remaining in the extra session, Jagr was called for goaltender interference, giving Boston a four-on-three power play for the rest of OT. Julien sent out Marc Savard as the point man, Wideman and Sturm as the shooters at the circles, and Chara as the in-front battler, hoping the unit could produce the winning goal.
"His first words when we left the bench after talking to them was, 'Guys, shoot the puck. I'm standing in front. Just shoot it,' " said Julien, who tapped Chara for front-of-the-net duties because of his reach and space-creating presence. "He was willing to pay the price."
With Savard quarterbacking the power play, the Bruins had several glittering chances to swipe an OT win. Savard smoked a one-timer from the point that Lundqvist, after performing a sharp split, booted out with his left pad. On a following sequence, Sturm floated a shot wide of the net. Then after Lundqvist (36 saves) was down and out after stopping a Wideman heater, Savard hit a shot that missed the cage.
"I like it," Sturm said of having Chara stationed in the crease. "Even on a five-on-three when he's up front. He's so big. He makes a lot of room out there."
After failing to score the overtime winner, all four breathless Bruins glided back to the bench doubled over, their hands on their knees.
In the shootout - the home coach can choose whether to shoot first or second - Julien opted for the opening shot, reasoning that his team had struggled to score lately.
Kobasew missed with a forehand shot, but Thomas responded with a glove stop on No. 1 New York shooter Brendan Shanahan. Then Kessel, after faking to his backhand, tucked a forehander between Lundqvist's pads.
No. 2 shooter Petr Prucha nearly stuffed a shot through Thomas to tie the score. But the goalie, backing into his net, kept the puck from crossing the line, setting up Chara to put the game away.
"I'm not the best stickhandler," said Chara. "So I decided to shoot the puck. Sometimes you have to keep it simple and shoot the puck."