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Milestone awaits Chara

He's 2 away from his 1,000th game

Zdeno Chara will put on his game face for the 1,000th time. Zdeno Chara will put on his game face for the 1,000th time. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadien Press/Associated Press)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / March 22, 2012
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SAN JOSE - Zdeno Chara, 998 career games on his curriculum vitae, took a few moments Wednesday to remember his NHL debut, mulling the names of the other Islanders defensemen who joined him that night in November 1997.

“Let’s see,’’ said Big Z, scrolling through his memory bank, the one that had him popping over the boards at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit with ex-Boston University Terrier Scotty Lachance his blue line partner. “There was Scotty, and [Rich] Pilon and Kenny Jonsson . . . and, boy, long time ago . . . who else?’’

As the Trencin Tower of Power worked the way-back machine, Bruins assistant coach Doug Houda, another former Islander, passed him in the hallway near the visitors’ dressing room.

“Hey, Houds,’’ said Chara. “Maybe you played that night - my first game?’’

Maybe. Maybe not. The self-effacing coach couldn’t be certain.

“I probably sat out,’’ said a smiling Houda, “because you played it.’’

In a league in which team rosters turn over nearly 100 percent every 6-7 years, Chara already has had the equivalent of a couple of careers and is working on his third. Boston is his third stop - with a layover in Ottawa - and 14-plus years ago, he never imagined he would talking about a career that lasted this long.

“I’ve thought about it a little bit lately,’’ said Chara, who will be back at work Thursday evening, Game No. 999, when the Bruins face the Sharks. “But, really, I’m trying not to think about it too much because this is an important game for us.

“But, sure, obviously it’s a milestone, and when you think about 1,000 games . . . you’ve got to be averaging, what, like 70-75 games for 14 or 15 years to do that, right?

“I don’t think anyone playing their first game thinks ahead to 500, 800, or 1,000 games. That’s just so far away. But when you get down to five more to go, 10 more to go, sure, you can’t help but think, it’s a lot of games, a long time.’’

The Bruins, who practiced here for some 40 minutes Wednesday, will play in Los Angeles Saturday night. Barring injury or illness, Chara, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner, will suit up against the Kings for his 1,000th game.

Considered the NHL’s No. 1 shut-down defenseman, he has 135 goals and 450 points, and he will become the 275th player to reach the 1,000-game plateau. Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris, also a former Bruin, as of Wednesday had played in 997 games.

“I could be off a day or two, but I believe the first game was Nov. 17, 1997, and we beat Detroit, 3-1,’’ recalled Chara. “And, no, I wasn’t nervous. I was actually calm. I knew, ‘Hey, if I make a mistake, that’s normal. Just try not to do it again.’

“I only played something like 10-15 minutes, and I really felt good because it was Detroit and they were the champs - I remember seeing their Stanley Cup banner - and they played that great style, never giving up the puck.

“Only their fourth line played dump and chase. Otherwise, they kept the puck, and if they didn’t like what they saw, they circled back with it, reloaded, and it was, ‘Here we go again.’ ’’

Rick Bowness, coach in Boston for one season (1991-92), was the Islanders bench boss the night Chara made his debut.

“And that’s one thing I won’t forget,’’ recalled Chara, breaking into a huge grin. “He came up to me after the game and said, ‘Hey, Z, that was pretty easy. First game, you finish plus-2 and play 15 minutes.’ And I just laughed and said, ‘Well, I don’t know about that.’ ’’

Chara still makes it look easy most nights, typically logging around 25 minutes and playing against the most skilled forwards in the game nearly every shift. Against the Sharks, he and partner Dennis Seidenberg will be out there virtually every time ex-Bruin Jumbo Joe Thornton jumps over the boards.

“Just try to get better every year,’’ said Chara, explaining the ingredients of his success. “Never get satisfied with what you’ve done the previous season. That’s been my approach from the start, and it still is.

“Keep all my routines the same, for day of game, day after the game. I’ve followed that for 15 years, never changed. And the trick is to do that and not get tired of it.

“And you know what? I don’t. I still loving doing it, and I still love my job.’’

Peverley held back

Coach Claude Julien noted after the 40-minute workout that he “predicts’’ Rich Peverley’s return will be “sooner rather than later,’’ but that the injured right winger (knee) may not see action on this trip, which wraps up Sunday night in Anaheim . . . Goalie Marty Turco, sporting new yellow pads in practice that might be the brightest in NHL history, won’t necessarily get a start on this trip. “We didn’t bring him here to put him on the bench,’’ said Julien. “At the same time, I have to look at where we are.’’ The coach wants No. 1 starter Tim Thomas to get rest, but without a top playoff seed secured, Julien sounds reluctant to turn to Turco, who was blown out in last week’s 6-1 loss in Tampa . . . The Bruins have 87 points, and with 10 games to go, they need the equivalent of six wins and an overtime loss to reach the 100-point plateau for the third time in four seasons. Julien: “It would be nice to get to triple digits, but it’s not as much about 100 points as it is about having to play our best games at an important time on the schedule.’’ . . . Peverley and Trent Whitfield skated as the extra forwards during the workout. Joe Corvo and Mike Mottau were the spare blue liners, although Corvo flashed an amazing rush with the puck during one of the drills.

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