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Chara stood tall on the power play

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / May 24, 2011

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It is widely acknowledged that at 6 feet 9 inches and 255 pounds, Zdeno Chara is the biggest and strongest player in the NHL. It is no reach, then, to declare that Chara is a handful down low around the net.

“He is a tall drink of water,’’ said Lightning goalie Mike Smith.

Last night, with their power play doing nothing (0 for 3), the coaching staff finally pulled the trigger on a long-awaited maneuver: putting Chara in front on the man-advantage.

The Bruins have always been hesitant about putting Chara in front despite his assets — size, strength, and decent hands. Being a net-front man requires grinding play that saps a body of far more energy than dangling at the point. Also, the Bruins have never been comfortable about taking Chara’s boomer off the point and replacing it with another triggerman.

Earlier in the game, Chara had caused chaos down low. At 11:40 of the second, he was stickhandling around the Tampa Bay net when Eric Brewer hooked the defenseman to the ice to give the Bruins a power play.

Later in the second, Chara helped create Brad Marchand’s winning goal. Chara stickhandled through the neutral zone, soft-chipped the puck to himself off the right-side boards, and initiated the cycle. Because of Chara’s widebody presence down low, the captain’s play caused confusion in the Tampa defense. That slight bit of hesitation led to Patrice Bergeron hitting Marchand backdoor for the winner.

So at 10:54 of the third, after Steve Downie was called for boarding on Johnny Boychuk, coach Claude Julien made the move. Chara replaced Milan Lucic as the net-front man on the No. 1 power-play unit. Perhaps because of Chara’s down-low presence, the Bruins kept the puck in the Tampa zone for nearly a minute.

“We’ve always had that plan in the back of our minds because our power play was not very good in Tampa,’’ Julien said. “We said if it was going to happen again, we had to make some changes, and we had Zdeno pegged to go to the front of the net. I know it takes something away from the back end, but we had players that we felt could maybe jump in at that point and maybe get some shots on net. I thought he did a great job in front. He’s a big presence and he’s a hard guy to move. We had some chances. So our power play at least, even if it didn’t score, gave us at least a little bit of momentum.’’

Kaberle stays in If the Bruins had better options than Shane Hnidy and Steven Kampfer, they might have considered giving Tomas Kaberle last night off following his Game 4 performance. But in three playoff games, Hnidy has averaged 3:09 of ice time. Kampfer is a rookie who hasn’t played in more than a month.

“If you know the game well enough, you would understand there’s some experience back there,’’ Julien said. “You’ve got to also think, ‘Is the guy coming in a better player than Kaberle?’ Some people wanted certain players out of the lineup earlier on. Our patience paid off. I don’t know why we’ve decided we should be taking him out of the lineup when there’s other players, too, that have struggled.’’

Julien noted that Kaberle wasn’t the only player at fault on Sean Bergenheim’s wraparound goal during the Game 4 loss. Adam McQuaid, Kaberle’s partner, was slow to take away the front of the net. David Krejci, whose turnover led to Dominic Moore’s dump-in, didn’t seal off Bergenheim once he won the puck. And Tim Thomas could have stopped Bergenheim’s shot.

“That goal, maybe [Kaberle] loses the puck, but our system calls for support on that,’’ Julien said. “Our support wasn’t there. According to our system, he’s not the only one to blame. The last winning goal, he blocks a shot, makes a great play, he’s trying to get off the ice, and we turn the puck over. So do we keep blaming Kaberle? I think people are a little hard on this guy.

“I’m one of those guys that’s going to support him. I’m one of those guys that’s going to keep him in the lineup, in case you want to know. And he’s going to be a good part of our hockey team. We got him because we believe in him.’’

Last night, Kaberle had two shots and two hits in 13:06 of ice time. Kaberle was on the ice for Nathan Horton’s game-tying goal.

Less space for Seguin As easy as Tyler Seguin found it to rack up two goals and two assists in the second period of Game 2, the rookie found it just as challenging to work his offensive game on Saturday. In 13:49 of ice time, Seguin went scoreless on three shots. Seguin was on the ice for three of Tampa’s five goals. Last night was more of the same. Seguin was called for an offensive-zone tripping penalty in the first. Later in the game, when Tampa coach Guy Boucher double-shifted Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis on the third line, Julien countered by replacing Seguin with Rich Peverley on the No. 3 trio. “They were starting to throw out St. Louis and Lecavalier and trying to take advantage, maybe, of a lack of experience in Tyler,’’ Julien said. “So I had to put Peverley up there at that point and make sure we had some experience against some of those guys.’’ . . . Boychuk was shaken up in the third period after he was boarded by Downie. After the win, Julien said Boychuk was fine . . . Bergenheim was limited to 4:19 because of an undisclosed injury.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto

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