Max Pacioretty anticipated the questions before Game 5 of the Montreal Canadiens’ series against the Boston Bruins. About how a 39 goal scorer in the regular season could score only one in eight playoff games. About his health, his confidence.
And his nemesis.
Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has been pitted against the Canadiens’ top line for most of this series, and helped shut them down. Pacioretty has one point in four games. Ditto his center, David Desharnais.
“Chara’s been really good this series. He goes into battles not worrying about someone playing the body on him. He’s so big, he doesn’t have to worry about that. Obviously, he’s difficult to play against,” said Pacioretty on Saturday (video via Dave Stubbs).
Michel Therrien attempted to get his top goal scorer away from Chara in the games in Montreal, but the big defenseman still helped blanket him.
“Playing here, in this environment, I have to be relied upon to score important goals and I haven’t done that yet,” said Pacioretty.
Of course, these aren’t two random players. These are rivals with a history that’s been seared into the memories of hockey fans: The hit, the stanchion and the stretcher. The lack of suspension and the calls for severe punishment. The police investigation and the diagnosis of Dr. Recchi.
That 2011 incident between the two, in which Chara’s shove into the side boards’ stanchion broke Pacioretty’s neck, isn’t at the forefront of this rivalry. The Bruins and Canadiens faced each other in the playoffs that season, and Pacioretty and Chara have faced each other many times since then.
If anything, Pacioretty processed the controversy as a learning experience. "I definitely wish I could take some things back … some things how I handled it," he told Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika in 2012. "But at the end of the day, I learned a lot about myself as a player and myself as a person. I think I was forced to grow up in a short amount of time.
He’s 25 now, and the leading goal scorer for the Montreal Canadiens. Maturity brings clarity and perspective, which is why Pacioretty’s not panicking despite his lack of goals this postseason.
“The Tampa series is different than playing the best team in the NHL in the regular season. And we’re right there with them right now,” he said of the Bruins, whom the Canadiens play in Game 5 on Saturday night with the series tied 2-2.
He acknowledges the challenge of breaking through the Bruins’ defense – be it Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Tuukka Rask or any of the defensive forwards Boston throws against his line – and how that challenge is increased with Claude Julien getting the last line change.
“I’ve got to do a better job of being able to overcome that adversity,” he said.
And that means overcoming the 6-foot-9 mountain that’s cast a shadow over him this series and throughout his career.
“The first four games, I’ll give him the edge. He was the better of the two players. But there’s three games left for me to prove myself and it’s real gut check time.”