CHICAGO – Marian Hossa couldn’t ask for a better neighbor than Zdeno Chara. He just might be the biggest nightmare as an opponent – particularly with a championship on the line.
The 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman has been causing all sorts of havoc for opponents and is a major reason why they’re aiming for their second championship in three years.
They’re set to take on Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals tonight, the first time Original Six franchises are meeting for the title since 1979.
It’ll also be friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor.
Hossa and Chara played junior hockey together, and they live in apartments across the street from each other in Slovakia.
“I’ll try to joke with him because he likes to be serious all the time on the ice,” Hossa said. “He doesn’t like to talk on the ice, so I just try to throw some funny stories (at him) and hopefully make him laugh.”
Chara has been a big reason why the Bruins are back in the Cup finals.
“You have no idea what this guy does for a hockey club,” coach Claude Julien said. “The few times he’s been out of our lineup, you’ve seen a difference. That’s the impact that he has on our hockey club. … He’s been an MVP for us since the day he stepped into that dressing room, and continues to be.”
Chara was the focal point in a game plan that kept former MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without a point while the Bruins swept high-scoring Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals.
Now, Boston is facing another skilled and deep team. No one dominated in the regular season like Chicago, which got off to a record start and captured the Presidents’ Trophy.
But no one’s been stingier than Boston in the playoffs. The Bruins have allowed just 30 goals in 16 games for a league-best 1.88 average in the playoffs.
“I think we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Chicago’s Brent Seabrook said. “I think our forwards are looking forward to the challenge. Boston did a great job against Pittsburgh taking away their offensive skill guys and what not.”
As good as they’ve been at shutting down opponents, Bruins defenders are also contributing on the offensive end. They have 15 goals in the postseason.
Johnny Boychuk has five and Torey Krug four. And besides being a major factor on defense, Chara has nine assists.
“He’s the biggest guy on the ice,” Hossa said. “If you don’t move your feet, he’s going to hurt you.”