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While we count the seconds until Week 4 at Gillette Stadium, Saturday in Washington will provide a higher-stakes appetizer.
The Zdeno Chara-Bruins storyline isn't Tom Brady-Patriots because nothing is, but meeting your captain of 14 years in the playoffs -- especially when the decision to let him go was controversial -- is juicy.
There are two facts at play here: First, the Bruins were wrong to let Chara walk when he was willing to take just over the veteran's minimum. Also true, though: At the moment, their defense only misses him from a depth standpoint. That's for now, at least.
If you added Chara to Boston's current group of defensemen, he'd maybe be a third-pairing guy over Jeremy Lauzon. The 24-year-old Lauzon was inconsistent during his first year of full-time duty. In the playoffs, it would be understandable to prefer the battle-tested Chara, even if he isn't what he once was.
If we're talking about Chara as just a third-pairing guy, his loss is negligible, but what happens if Lauzon has a hard time? Or -- and this is certainly realistic given Lauzon and Matt Grzelcyk's fortune this season -- what if someone on the left side of Boston's blue line gets hurt? The Bruins have a good enough defense, but if players start dropping off, it's a logical Achilles' heel.
Before the trade deadline, the Bruins didn't appear worthy of investing major resources. Part of it was that they only had one reliable line, but the other was that for as well as the team kept the puck out of the net, its blue line was asking for trouble. Guys were in and out with injuries. Players like Lauzon and Zboril didn't appear ready to log top-four minutes in the postseason.
Two low-cost trades later, the Bruins had the best of both worlds. They'd finally given themselves a second line (and upgraded their bottom six) with the Taylor Hall/Curtis Lazar trade, and they'd also held onto their first-round pick and top young players.
Getting Mike Reilly from Ottawa wasn't as flashy a season-changer as Hall, but it was a season-changer nonetheless. Without that acquisition, the Bruins would be feeling the Chara loss far worse, as Reilly's been a legitimate second-pairing presence.
So they don't miss Chara now as much as it appeared they would. In hindsight, it still would have made sense to have just signed Chara and still gone after a player like Reilly, but you can understand why Don Sweeney wanted to see what he had in Lauzon and Zboril.
Chara will come into the series as a third-pairing defender and top penalty killer for Washington. He played 18:19 a night and led the Capitals in shorthanded time on ice.
Chara got a lot of time against Boston's third line in the regular season. Right now, that line is Sean Kuraly between Nick Ritchie and Charlie Coyle.
Chara obviously has a hard time with speedier players, but that line probably won't give him the troubles he's had in first rounds past with some of Toronto's burners. Kuraly is a great skater, but Ritchie and Coyle won't be mistaken for Mitch Marner any time soon.
There was a long stretch where having Zdeno Chara made the difference in a series. The Bruins were on the right side of that for a very long time. It's hard to see Chara being a primary reason either team wins this series, but we'll see over the next week and a half whether Chara the role player was still someone the Bruins could have used this time of year.