It was a fine question to ask. When did the Bruins make the decision that defenseman Zdeno Chara, who broke his jaw in Monday’s Game 4 against the Blues, could actually be able to play tonight? The problem is that the question started from a false premise. As head coach Bruce Cassidy noted today, Chara “was never ruled out.”
Chara left Game 4 after a shot rode up his stick and into his mouth, and he left a whole lot of blood on the ice. Officially, Cassidy says, Chara is a game-time decision tonight, and will have to be given the green light by team doctors before he himself declares whether or not he can go. Unofficially: c’mon, he’s playing.
Wearing a jaw protector (but not a full bubble), Chara took part in today’s optional morning skate. That skate was crucial, because the biggest factors influencing whether he’ll be able to play are what he’s physically able to do. This isn’t really about pain management. Instead, it’s about basic hockey things. Will he be able to communicate with teammates on the ice? (Cassidy said Chara can talk, but it’s difficult.) Will he be able to breathe well enough if he can’t really open his mouth that much? Will he be able to see the puck at his feet with the jaw protector in the way? (This morning he worked specifically on picking the puck out of his skates.)
“He’s an incredibly tough man,” Brad Marchand said of the 42-year-old captain, and the Bruins pretty desperately need Chara out there for reasons beyond inspiration. He might not be the player he once was, but Chara still plays monster minutes and his presence has knock-on effects for all three pairings. Boston’s blue line had already been shorthanded after Matt Grzelcyk was concussed in Game 2. Grzelcyk is also listed as a game-time decision tonight, and the Bruins were (are?) facing the possibility of having to use some combination of John Moore, Steven Kampfer, and even Urho Vaakanainen, with two career NHL games to his name. Even if both Chara and Grzelcyk play in Game 5, it still probably makes sense to dress seven defensemen.
Chara, for his part, gave some typical, boring hockey answers. What was atypical was that he handwrote his answers.
That’s very cool, and I’m happy for Chara, who is very likely playing in his last Finals, but at the same time dread all the hockey vs. basketball memes this is going to inspire.