CHICAGO – When Chris Kelly was traded to the Bruins in 2011, the welcoming committee to Boston was 6 feet, 9 inches of menace known as Zdeno Chara.
The Bruins defenseman, whom Kelly had gotten to know as an intimidating physical presence while Kelly played for the Ottawa Senators, was among the first to call with an offer for a free dinner.
“He’s very welcoming to everyone that comes into this locker room,” said Kelly, a center who about a year in Ottawa with Chara. “You’ll see ‘Z’ sit with the youngest guy on our team or the oldest guy on our team, having a meal, and it’s no big deal. The conversation will be easy with both.”
But then Kelly added, “Oh, he’s still intimidating.”
Thus is the dichotomy of Chara, the 36-year-old Bruins captain who will try to first unite a locker room after his team’s 4-3 triple-overtime loss to the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and then dismantle the opponent in Game 2 on Saturday night at the United Center.
“He brings a certain confidence to everybody in this room,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “He’s dominant, and that’s what you want to have on your team as the No. 1 defenseman.”
Seidenberg, 31, said he doesn’t often see Chara smile, but the defensive duo that helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 has made plenty of folks in Beantown beam. They were among the players who logged the most minutes in Wednesday’s marathon game. Chara was on the ice for more than 45 minutes, including for all three Bruins goals, though his time fell off in the third overtime, when Coach Claude Julien said he was trying to keep his players fresh.
Among the attributes that stick out to Kelly since getting to know Chara is the way the 16-year veteran takes care of his body. Julien praised Chara’s conditioning earlier this week, calling him a horse and saying the more minutes he plays, the happier he is.
Chara said Friday he felt tired but fine after the loss.
“Whatever coach decides to play me, I’m fine with that,” Chara said. “I’ve never been a guy who’s chasing some kind of stats. I always try to work hard and prepare myself for every game to play whatever minutes I need to play. You just try to take care of yourself.”
And the more minutes he can play, the more of a problem the 255-pound Chara can be for the Hawks in this series.
He has 56 hits in the postseason and 36 blocked shots, including one that helped save the Bruins’ Game 4 victory over the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. Among defensemen, Chara is tied for third in the playoffs with 11 points and has a league-best plus-13 rating.
“He’s a beast out there,” said Hawks winger Andrew Shaw. “He’s got that great stick, and he’s a great defensive player. I really have to key on him and make him work and make him compete in those corners.
“Growing up watching that guy play, I always thought he was an amazing player, and he still is. He’s the strongest guy I’ve ever played against. It’s a great battle in front of the net.”
A six-time All-Star, Chara won the Norris Trophy for outstanding defenseman in 2009. He wasn’t one of three finalists for the award this year, but Julien said this week that “he’s always been a Norris Trophy winner for us.”
“You have no idea what this guy does for a hockey club,” Julien said. “The few times he’s been out of our lineup, you’ve seen a difference. … He’s been an MVP for us since the day he stepped into that dressing room, and continues to be.”