OTTAWA – There is only so long a hockey team can withstand the war of attrition when their defensemen start dropping to injuries.
That time was up for the Boston Bruins at the end of Game 2 against the Senators.
The Bruins lost their fourth D-man in four games on Saturday afternoon when Adam McQuaid left with an upper body injury in the first period, and then saw their hockey club wilt in the third period and overtime in a 4-3 OT loss to the Sens at Canadian Tire Centre.
“It’s kind of unfortunate but those things happen,” said Zdeno Chara. “You wish that you had a full lineup every game, but it’s unfortunate for us the last three or four games we’re always losing a body. For the most part I thought we handled it well.”
There were other things at play in the loss, of course, but the game truly turned away from Boston when a tired Zdeno Chara ceased handling it well and flipped a puck over the boards for a catastrophic delay of game penalty in a tied game with just 12.5 seconds remaining.
The third period play seemed to be a clear case of mental and physical fatigue conspiring into player error with Chara under zero duress from the Senators when he made the unforced gaffe over the glass.
“Obviously I’m trying to keep the puck in play, but whether it was a little bounce or probably putting too much on it…those things happen,” said Chara. “It’s just a bad bounce, so I’ve got to make sure next time I keep it in.”
Ottawa didn’t strike on the ensuing power play per se, but they scored on a Dion Phaneuf shot from the point in the scrambling seconds after the PP had ended, and 40-year-old Chara had finished off his afternoon with a season-high 30:09 of ice time. It’s exactly the kind of workload that the Bruins avoided this season with the NHL’s fourth oldest player, but something they may be forced into now given their situation.
It wasn’t anybody’s fault really as head coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t have much choice but to keep calling Chara’s number given the walking wounded situation he’s dealing with on the back end without Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Colin Miller and McQuaid. And the 40-year-old Chara can’t be faulted if mistakes start to creep into his game when he’s logging 30 minutes of ice time after not approaching that during the regular season.
It’s more a case of injuries simply taking their toll as the Bruins have lost four of their top six defensemen, and the team just now beginning to show the wear and tear of a month’s worth of misfortune hitting them all at once.
But it was a fair question to ask whether Bruins injury situation on defense is beginning to create fatigue issues, and force Cassidy into overtaxing some of his players just two games into a postseason run.
“Yeah, Zee had a lot of minutes tonight. He’s a well-conditioned guy and I’m using him as an example, but Charlie [McAvoy] played a lot of minutes. On the positive side Joe Morrow got thrown in there and did a nice job for us. He stepped in and did his job,” said Cassidy. “It’s just hockey. They lost a guy too [Mark Borowiecki] so it happens. We’re on a bad run. Let’s face it. That’s the fourth game in a row where we’ve lost a guy early.
“But you’ve just got to suck it up and play, and the onus goes on the whole team. I thought we did a good job of the forwards helping out the D in that regard, and that’s one area where you can overcome some of that fatigue is by forwards managing the puck better and getting it behind their D. So it’s not hard minutes. We did a good job of recognizing that.”
One doesn’t even want to imagine what things would look like if the 19-year-old McAvoy wasn’t able to come in and play 24 minutes in Game 1, and then jump all the way to a quality 27:47 of ice time in just the second game of his NHL career. So at least part of Boston’s Game 2 loss can be chalked up to them currently losing the war of attrition with Ottawa in a best-of-seven series.
They have to simply hope things clear up for them a bit this week, and some injured players heal up quickly.
Perhaps McQuaid’s upper body injury isn’t that serious (though I wouldn’t bet on that given how painful something must be to keep him from returning to a playoff game), or Miller will be able to return quickly after the knee-on-knee hit in Game 1. Carlo is already showing enough improvement the Bruins believe he’ll return to game action “sooner rather than later,” and that would a major positive development for the Black and Gold.
The problem in the playoffs, though, is that time isn’t on Boston’s side, and it could be too late for some of their injured guys to return if replacements can’t hold the fort. It’s also no longer feasible to expect a 40-year-old Chara to log 30 minutes a night during an extended playoff run, and to be able to do it without his performance suffering on ice.
That’s exactly why Stanley Cup-winning teams every single season boast a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career whether it’s Kris Letang, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty or even Chara all the way back in 2011, and why the Bruins won’t win the Cup this season whether it’s a first round exit or a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals. For right now, the B’s might not even get out of the first round unless they can start getting some good news when it comes to the health and well-being of their defensemen corps.