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Police open investigation of Chara’s hit

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara didn’t shy away from physical contact, checking Sabres defenseman Steve Montador in the third. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara didn’t shy away from physical contact, checking Sabres defenseman Steve Montador in the third. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / March 11, 2011

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Zdeno Chara escaped the long arm of NHL law Wednesday when the league opted not to suspend him for his hit the night before on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty.

But while Pacioretty checked out yesterday from a Montreal hospital, still recovering from what the Canadiens reported as a severe concussion and cracked vertebra, Chara’s hit was the focal point of a police investigation in Quebec and a threat by Air Canada to withdraw its sponsorship (i.e. advertising and money support) of the NHL.

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-9-inch Chara remained resolute, saying again that he did not intentionally target Pacioretty for a hit and that he did not make the hit to inflict injury. Following yesterday’s morning workout at the Garden, Chara said he was unaware that Pacioretty was on the ice at the time, and also was unaware which Canadien he was checking along the wall near the Boston bench.

“There’s still things hanging over our heads right now,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “It doesn’t seem to want to disappear . . . not easy to deal with for anybody, whether it’s the organization, the players, and everybody involved. It’s not an easy situation because we understand that there’s a player that’s injured at the other end. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had that happen to us. It goes past the game itself.’’

The Bruins have seen two of their top players, Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron, lose significant playing time to menacing hits in recent years. Unlike Chara’s hit, which angled Pacioretty into the boards, and ultimately led to the Montreal forward’s head pounding into a stanchion at the end of Boston’s bench, Savard and Bergeron each were victims of head shots.

Savard’s aggressor, Penguins forward Matt Cooke, was not suspended. Bergeron’s aggressor, then-Flyers defenseman Randy Jones, was suspended for two games.

According to the Ottawa Sun, Air Canada sent a letter Wednesday to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, threatening to pull its financial support if the league refuses to take “immediate’’ and “serious’’ action on head shots. The letter was sent less than 24 hours after Chara’s hit on Pacioretty.

“We are contacting you to voice our concern over the incident involving Max Pacioretty and Zdeno Chara at the Bell Centre in Montreal,’’ wrote Denis Vandal, Air Canada’s director of marketing/communications. “This is following several other incidents involving career-threatening and life-threatening head shots in the NHL recently.’’

The hits, coupled with the league’s inaction, make it difficult for the airline to sustain its financial support, contended Vandal.

“From a corporate social responsibility standpoint,’’ wrote Vandal, “it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality.’’

The NHL has not responded publicly to the Air Canada letter. According to the Ottawa Sun report, Bill Daly, the league’s deputy commissioner, responded only, “We referred them to our public statement [in regard to the Chara-Pacioretty ruling]. We have no intention of engaging them further at this point.’’

Meanwhile, in Quebec City, the province’s capital, Louis Dionne, the provincial director of criminal and penal prosecutions, initiated a criminal investigation yesterday into Chara’s hit. Montreal police will collect evidence and submit it to Dionne, whose office then will determine if there are grounds for prosecution.

“I got some media information on that this morning,’’ said Chara, when asked after the morning workout about the brewing investigation in Quebec. “Right now, I’m focusing on playing my game, and playing hockey.’’

Despite where Quebec authorities may take their investigation, Pacioretty said in a statement yesterday that he would prefer legal action not to be taken against Chara.

“I sincerely appreciate all of the support that I have received since my injury,’’ he said in a statement, as reported by the Associated Press. “I was disappointed that the NHL did not suspend Zdeno Chara. However, I have no desire for him to be prosecuted legally. I feel that the incident, as ugly as it was, was part of a hockey game.

“I understand that this is not my decision. I have respect and admiration for the authorities in Quebec. I simply wanted to make my opinion clear.’’

Chara, when asked late last night about Pacioretty’s statement, called it a “nice gesture.’’

“It’s very unfortunate,’’ Chara added, speaking of Pacioretty’s injury. “I feel bad about it — you don’t want to see anybody get hurt.’’

Earlier, Chara said again that he knew “deep down’’ that he never intended to hurt Pacioretty.

Meanwhile, Canadiens players remain upset that Chara was not punished by the league.

“Guys are livid, they’re [ticked] off,’’ veteran Scott Gomez told Postmedia News in Montreal.

Zero-sum game Fixing a broken power play is probably easier than mending a broken heart, but last night the Bruins failed in their search for a love connection with their broken man advantage.

With an 0 for 3 showing against the Sabres (who went 2 for 7 after coming in ranked 14th on the power play) at the Garden, the Bruins are an anemic 0 for 19 on the man advantage across their last eight games. Their success rate of 16.8 percent coming in ranked them 19th in the league. Of the 16 teams holding playoff berths as of yesterday, only Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington ranked below Boston for power play efficiency.

The Bruins haven’t scored an extra-man goal since Feb. 18. Just when everyone thought the addition of Tomas Kaberle at the point would make them a power-play machine, the Bruins instead went into a late-winter hibernation.

“The top end of our power play has been a lot better,’’ said Julien, focusing on the Kaberle-Chara tandem that has moved the puck with impressive poise and agility. “We are establishing better shots. It’s been a lot more stable up there.’’

Which, in turn, may be Boston’s problem. While the Kaberle-Chara duo may be a joy to watch, the forwards seemingly have gone to sleep, as if hypnotized by the quick, smooth exchanges between their point men. Julien has talked lately about the forwards jumping on loose pucks and tipping shots. All good.

But overall, the forwards have been too static. Successful power plays typically feature forwards skating, weaving through the slot and sometimes trading positions with the point men. Boston’s power play just stands there, especially the forwards, whose limited contribution of late has been feeding pucks up to Kaberle or Chara for point shots. All too predictable and ineffective.

“You are talking like Claude right now,’’ said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who lately has been getting 30 or 40 seconds as Chara’s relief at the right point. “That’s exactly what he’s been saying. We have been better at moving up top, but we have to be a little bit better and be creative down low — just kind of moving and jumping to open spots and pulling out to the high slot to get those opportunities.

“I don’t know what it is . . . not enough luck, or us not jumping on pucks to get rebounds.’’

Slow starts Boston’s three trade deadline pickups — Kaberle, Rich Peverley, and Chris Kelly — have only five points (1-4—5) and 27 shots in their collective 26 games wearing Black and Gold. Peverley and Kelly weren’t acquired with an eye on providing offense, per se, but Kaberle’s acquisition was premised on him juicing up the power play, ideally by averaging around one assist per game. Prior to last night, he was 0-1—1 in eight games . . . Mark Recchi, shifted to a line with Kelly and Michael Ryder, finished with seven of Boston’s 29 shots. Milan Lucic ranked second with four . . . Julien said that Andrew Ference, recovering from a lower-body injury, could be ready to play as early as Tuesday night’s game in Columbus . . . Steven Kampfer, who is recovering from a concussion, reported yesterday that he had been headache-free until a 15-minute bike riding session Wednesday led to a headache that evening. He’ll have to back off his dry land training slightly, he said, but was generally encouraged over his improvement of late. Last night was the third game the rookie blue liner has missed. He was injured in the March 3 game against Tampa Bay.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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