VANCOUVER – Zdeno Chara’s hopes of becoming the first Slovak NHL captain to hoist the Stanley Cup were damaged when an Alex Burrows goal 11 seconds into overtime gave the Vancouver Canucks a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins at Rogers Arena in Saturday’s Game Two.
It was a tough night for the 2.06-metre, 115-kilogram blueliner. Burrows outhustled Chara on the wraparound winner, with goalie Tim Thomas caught out of his net. Chara also took a first-period interference penalty on Ryan Kesler that led to Burrows’ 1-0 power play goal. Those two gaffes overshadowed Chara’s assist on Mark Recchi’s 2-1 goal in the second period, which was Boston’s first tally with the man advantage in this series.
Yet Boston coach Claude Julien refused to blame his former Norris Trophy winner, who logged a game-high 28:12 of ice time alongside Germany’s Dennis Seidenberg. “It's not about Zdeno,” said Julien. “Zdeno didn't lose the game for us tonight. Our whole team did.”
Chara has mixed feelings about playing in Vancouver, no matter what the downtown NHL arena is called. In 2010, it was Canada Hockey Place during the Olympics, and the Slovaks managed to defeat perennial contenders like Russia and Sweden. With stellar performances from forward Pavol Demitra, playing on what was then home ice for him, and goalie Jaroslav Halak, they pushed Canada to the limit in a 3-2 semi-final loss. However, Slovakia’s Cinderella run didn’t end with a medal, much to Chara’s disappointment.
“I thought Slovakia really had a good Olympics,” Chara said. “We beat some really good teams, being underdogs. It was hard to swallow the last loss against Finland. Being up 3-0 after the first period and losing the bronze medal [by a 5-3 count], it was heartbreaking.”
Now, with Chara’s Bruins trailing Vancouver 2-0 in the finals, the giant Trencin-born blueliner is going to need some good luck and great performances – not only from himself, but also fellow Olympians like Thomas (USA) Patrice Bergeron (Canada), and David Krejci (Czech Republic) – if he intends to turn around his Vancouver-related fortunes.
Chara was one of the few “name” players who was unable to join Slovakia during the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Bratislava. Despite icing a star-studded roster on home ice, the Glen Hanlon-coached Slovaks recorded a disappointing 10th-place finish. They could never get back on track after a 4-3 May Day loss to gritty Germany.
“It’s unfortunate,” Chara said. “I know that they were trying really hard, but it just wasn’t happening. You feel for them. I was cheering them on and hoping they would do much better, but it just didn’t happen. You feel bad about that finish.”
Despite playing in two Olympics and six World Championships, Chara has only one IIHF medal to his credit (a silver from Russia 2000). How would seeing Chara hoist the Cup make fans back home feel?
“Hopefully it’s going to cheer them up and make up for that [10th-place] result,” Chara said. “It would be nice.”
But right now, he’s got a mountain to climb that’s even taller than Chara himself.