Later tonight, Zdeno Chara will become the 11th player to suit up for his 1,000th NHL game while wearing a Bruins jersey. Although he was drafted by the Islanders and played 231 games with the club, followed by another 299 as a member of the Ottawa Senators, last season cemented his legacy in Boston. Images of him hoisting the Stanley Cup will forever be part of hockey history.
Game 470 with the Bruins will come against the Kings, a team he’s faced only 15 times over his long career – one that started on November 19, 1997 at Joe Louis Arena.
“That first game was a dream come true,” Chara said of facing the Red Wings that night in Detroit. “A lot of memories growing up go through your head. It’s quite a thing when 15 years later you still remember that game, almost like it was yesterday…my very first shift I remember the coach putting me on. There was a whistle and then a defensive zone faceoff on the left hand side of our net. Scott Lachance was on the left side, I was on the right. We were just skating towards the circle and talking about what we were going to do. That very first moment when I was standing at that faceoff, I was thinking ‘Here it is, this is my first moment in the NHL.’
It was more than a year later when he saw the Kings for the first time, in a game on December 17, 1998 at the Forum in Inglewood. His Islanders won 5-4 in overtime, in front of an announced crowd of 9,872. You can expect roughly double the number of fans in attendance for tonight’s game at Staples Center.
Even with that additional energy in the building and an expected playoff-like atmosphere, he’s doing his best to block out any possible distractions right now.
“I’m trying to focus on tomorrow’s game the same way as any other game,” explained Chara. “Obviously, I know it’s a milestone and an accomplishment. Yet, going all the way back to my very first NHL game, I never thought I would be able to play in the league for this long. So, I’ve been very fortunate to play with some great players and learn so much from different players and coaches. I’m very thankful for that.”
Among the many things he’s learned is that winning the Stanley Cup is great, but it puts a big bulls-eye on your back the following season.
“It’s a different walk that you’re walking after you win the Championship. It’s more challenging. Everybody’s looking at you and there are high expectations.”
Even so, Chara feels the Bruins are still poised for success. Besides strong goaltending and overall toughness, he even tried to explain the ‘it’ factor they have, something that can be hard to measure.
“First of all, we have a really tight group inside the locker room. We’re very close to each other. We try to always carry that on the ice and when we play with that intensity and that physicality, we’re capable of a high-tempo game and are hard to play against,” he said.
A later admission indicated they’re perhaps a work-in-progress though. “We’ve been kind of on and off lately. But, we’re trying to re-establish that going into the playoffs because that’s the only way we’re going to be successful.”
As for his memories against the Kings, Chara said “I always remember when Rob Blake played here with Luc (Robitaille) and obviously the teams with Ziggy (Palffy) and Stumpy (Jozef Stumpel). Those were really great teams to play against because they were star players. They did so much for hockey. Those games were always intense and fun to play.”
You want intense? The last two games between the Kings and Bruins have been shutouts (with each team winning on their home ice). The three games prior to that were all decided in a shootout. And the game before that…well, it went to overtime.
So, what about the game before that you ask?
It was pretty uneventful. The Bruins won 8-6 on October 12, 2007. Chara had two assists and was a plus-2 that night. The Bruins haven’t beaten the Kings in LA since.