CHICAGO – It happened five times.
The first time, Zdeno Chara saw Brandon Saad motor past him to feed Michal Handzus for a shorthanded goal. The second time, Chara was on his hands and knees in Tuukka Rask’s crease after a collision with Bryan Bickell, leaving Jonathan Toews to tip home a shot.
The third time saw Chara sliding down the ice on his stomach, unable to prevent a Michael Frolik pass from connecting with Marcus Kruger for another goal. The fourth time … well, it wasn’t Chara’s fault that Dennis Seidenberg allowed Patrick Sharp to slip his check and score a power-play goal. But the fifth time was the last goal of the game: Brent Seabrook, in overtime, as Chara and Toews battled in front of Rask, who had trouble tracking the puck because of it.
Five times, Chara was on the ice for a Blackhawks goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
This just doesn’t happen to Zdeno Chara.
“He's not a guy that we should be afraid of. We should go at him, protect the puck from him, make plays around him and through him,” said Jonathan Toews, one day after the Blackhawks’ 6-5 overtime win in Game 4 to even the series.
So how did the Blachawks finally scale Mount Chara?
Use Their Speed
It’s no secret the Blackhawks have a speed advantage in their matchup against the Boston Bruins. The last team that was able to utilize its speed against the Bruins had them dead-to-rights in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
Chicago had room to skate in Game 4, especially entering the offensive zone. They had Chara moving his feet rather than simply swatting every puck away with his Pterodactyl-like wing span while clogging the middle of the ice.
“That's one of the main goals is to get him to move his feet and try to sustain that pressure,” said Brandon Saad.
Watch the Marcus Kruger goal. Michael Frolik never stopped moving his feet, got around Chara and it resulted in a goal.
"It's a small example of the way we can expose him," said Toews.
That also involves getting Chara moving deep in the zone, whether it’s chasing pucks or chasing passers deep in the zone.
“I think we executed our game plan against him with his reach, just get pucks behind him, just to try to get him moving in front,” said Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell.
Hit’em, and The Hit’em Again
Patrick Kane isn’t going to layeth the smackdown on Zdeno Chara. But he knows the Blackhawks that do get physical with Chara can get him off his game.
“I think any time you can get a chance to lay the body on him, one of our bigger guys, it's big for the team and can spark us and get us going,” he said.
Bryan Bickell was tasked with hitting Chara in Game 4. Hit him he did.
“He doesn't like getting hit,” said Bickell. “Not a lot of guys attempt it, but to get a hit on him and to see him fall down, it's rare, but I just needed to keep it going.”
It’s not just hitting Chara – it’s going strength for strength with him in front of the net. Like on the game-winning goal, when Toews held his position, battled with Chara in front of Rask and, in the words of the Blackhawks, “took his eyes away.”
Don’t Be Scared Of The Giant
Chara can be intimidating, not only with his physical play but with his reputation as one of the NHL’s top defensemen.
In Game 4, the Blackhawks simply forgot everything they knew about Zdeno Chara.
“I think maybe at times in the first couple games we were giving him a little bit too much respect by trying to keep the puck away from him,” said Toews.
“Against him, I think sometimes you worry so much about who you're playing against that it goes to your disadvantage. You just want to play the game,” said Kane.
So the Blackhawks did to Zdeno Chara was few teams have done. Cutting down the giant. Humbling the best defenseman in the playoffs. Overcoming what seemed like an impenetrable defense from Game 3.
Patrick Kane’s happy it happened. But isn’t counting on it happening again.
“We scored five goals against him. I don't think you'll see that in any other game this series,” he said.
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