- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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There's been a cloud of controversy surrounding Boston's captain the past few days, ever since he was involved in a play that left Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty severely injured, likely ending his season Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Chara was exonerated by the NHL, which created an uproar in Montreal, and it could have easily distracted him from playing his style of game when the Bruins took to the ice against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at TD Garden.
Following the Bruins' game-day skate, Chara said he was focused on playing hockey.
That's exactly what he did.
Despite a 4-3 overtime loss to the Sabres, Chara was physical and involved in every aspect of the game. It was quite clear he wasn't about to change the way he plays.
"I don't see any reason to change my game or style of play," Chara said after the loss. "I'm going to continue to play physical and play hard. That's my game and I don't see any reason to change."
Chara was not in the starting lineup, but once his skates touched the ice, the 17,565 in attendance gave him a loud ovation and began to chant his name.
"It's something I very much appreciate and I'm very thankful for that. It feels great to be at home and to have that support from your own fans," he said.
"It's obviously the thing I love to do. Playing hockey is my most important thing and to be on the ice is where I feel most comfortable."
What has been difficult for the Bruins and Chara is the storm of controversy that was created by Tuesday's incident.
After Montreal Police opened a criminal investigation, Pacioretty said he didn't think Chara should be prosecuted. Though the Montreal winger was furious that the league didn't suspended Chara, he said a suspension is where the discipline should have ended.
Chara said he appreciates Pacioretty speaking out on his behalf.
"It's a nice gesture," Chara said. "It's something that, for sure, shouldn't go that far [with a police investigation]. It's something, like I've said, is very unfortunate. You feel bad about it. You don't want to see anybody get hurt, especially in the case of an upper body, neck and head. We all feel bad about it. Rivalry or no rivalry, it's something we all want to see the guy recover [from]."
Chara made it a point to express his desire to reach out to Pacioretty sooner rather than later, either by phone or in person.
"I totally understand right now he probably needs time and space and to be around his family. I'm sure when the time is right, we're going to talk," Chara said.
Chara defended himself against reports earlier in the week that he's a dirty player. His line of defense centered on his belief he made a clean hockey play and that the glass between the benches at the Bell Centre is what caused Pacioretty's injuries.
The NHL obviously agreed when it decided not to suspend Chara after Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a non-displaced fractured vertebra after his head hit the partition in the waning seconds of the second period Tuesday night.
"It's one of those things -- glass, partitions, doors and even hockey nets are part of the game and players run into them," Chara said Wednesday afternoon. "It's very unfortunate a player got hurt."
Chara's cry for innocence has merit.
If that play occurred on any other area of the ice surface, it likely would have been only a two-minute interference penalty.
Since Pacioretty's injury, the talk around the league has focused on that area between the benches. Without a doubt, some sort of barrier must be in place to separate the teams. That area varies from building to building, and the recent incident in Montreal sparked NHLPA executive Donald Fehr to release a statement Thursday afternoon.
"Player safety has always been, and continues to be, a great concern to the players' association," Fehr said. "In that regard, issues involving the boards and glass in NHL arenas have been a longstanding focus for the players.
"The serious nature of the injury suffered by Max Pacioretty in Montreal this week reinforces the importance of maximizing the safety in this area and highlights the need to look further into the matter. We will be inspecting the rink in Montreal, and elsewhere, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place. We will continue to gather feedback from the membership, to ensure the safest possible work environment for our players."
The area between the benches at the Garden varies, depending on the set up. When fans are allowed to sit between the benches (like Thursday night), there are three pieces of glasses that surround the area big enough for four seats. The front piece of glass sits directly on the dasher with partitions on each end, which are covered in padding.
The padding is six feet tall and two inches thick and is two years old, according to a member of the building's bull gang.
When there's a reporter or photographer stationed in that area during a game, there's no glass in the front and the side pieces are actually set back eight to 10 inches off the dasher. There are no partitions on the corner of the glass, only padding three feet high and one inch thick.
"If it were up to me, I would get rid of the whole thing and just put one wall up between the benches," said a member of the bull gang who wished to remain anonymous. "One wall and you can leave the glass behind the dasher."
The league, the NHLPA and the manufacturer have to agree to any changes, but the building personnel at the Garden have had internal discussions.
"Basically, the rods [partitions] should be moved off the dasher, back off to the side walls about six to eight inches back," the bull gang member said. "You'll still have [glass between the benches], but it'll give you more room than it being right there. It's not going to solve the whole problem, but it'll be a lot better and less chance of a player hitting it. We've talked about that amongst ourselves."
Until the league and the players' union can come to an agreement on any changes or improvements to that area of the ice, players like Chara will not deviate from their game. Boston's captain proved that Thursday night on the ice, and the way he addressed the situation again after the game was genuine.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
Zdeno Chara will keep playing hard, but his hit sparks talk of change.