The layoff has given Bruins veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara a chance to rest for a playoff run, and the Boston captain is ready to get back on the ice. Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Zdeno Chara acknowledged that the NHL’s planned 24-team playoff format may not be great for everybody. In fact, it could be argued that his Bruins – well in the lead for the top seed overall at the time of the league’s stoppage – are the team most negatively affected, from a purely hockey standpoint.

But Chara, striking his typically statesman-like tone, said that any gripes anyone may have with the format are insignificant against the backdrop of today’s locked-down coronavirus existence.

“It’s not going to be perfect and we have to realize that anytime you have this kind of unexpected stoppage with teams being at different points of the season and different amount of games, you have to come up with some sort of solution. And people have been talking almost daily to the player reps and different kind of advisers to come up with the best possible solution,” said Chara on a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday.

“It does affect everyone and every team, but it’s one of those things that you can’t really blame anyone or feel that it’s unfair. For us, we have to be grateful for the opportunity that we’re getting. When you look at it from a real-life perspective, what a lot of people, families, businesses are going through, it’s one of those things that we’re getting the opportunity to basically start almost where we ended the season. Not everybody is getting the same chance. A lot of people have lost a lot of financial support. A lot of businesses went down and they will never get the same opportunity. So we have to be grateful for the opportunity and take it as a huge motivation and excitement and be grateful. Kind of embrace it.”

Chara had spent most of his time since the March 12 shutdown of the league in Florida with his family but, with the league inching toward opening up for small group workouts at team facilities within the next couple weeks, he has returned to Boston. Chara drove, avoiding commercial travel and thus the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival back in his team’s home city.

He said there are questions about health and safety still to be answered. But even if those are all answered, there is no way that this massive endeavor that the NHL and the NHLPA are trying to pull off can be risk-free.

“There is definitely risk involved,” said Chara. “We have to kind of realize that you have to accept risk in your lives. I’m sure even without this pandemic, every time you step on the ice there is a risk of getting injured or some sort of things can happen. Obviously this is a little bit different, this is something that it is really hard and nobody can know 100% or can guarantee what will happen. Yeah, there is going to be risk involved. We just have to manage what kind of risk we are willing to accept.”

He said the lockdown has afforded him time to take a different perspective on his life.

“Definitely you appreciate what you have,” said Chara. “When you look at the big picture, obviously we talked about how this becomes very uncomfortable for many of us and it has affected so many people. But I’m so grateful that I have family and I’ve been able to spend some time with them. Every day I’ve been playing with my kids and seeing them interact and keep improving in their skills. When you have a setback like this, you want to also step back and take a breather from the routine you were involved in for so long. It kind of makes you realize that things are not always going to be perfect. There are going to be some challenges in your life. You just have to remind yourself what worked before when you were facing some challenges and adversities and start implementing those same routines.”

With regard to the Return to Play plan, the captain said the two and a half months he’s been off the ice just may be the longest stretch for him since coming into the NHL. As famously fit as Chara has kept himself over the years, he and his teammates will need to ease into the on-ice workouts.

“If you’re a runner and you haven’t been running for two months, I don’t think that you’re going to go for a first run and it’s going to be a 20K,” said Chara. “It’s going to be slowly getting into it, (trying to prevent) some strains or (pulled muscle) injuries. That’s the key. I think we have to manage the workload we’re going to be doing the first few sessions and then just slowly adding to those practices. Being away for two-plus months, I think at the same time it will come back fairly quickly. We’ve done this for so long for so many years, it’s second nature to us. I think it will take a few days, maybe weeks, but I think eventually everything will be fine.”

While nothing will be normal about hockey’s return, Chara said that playing without fans will be the biggest difference, a frequent topic among his teammates on the players’ Zoom chats.

“Most of us talked about how it’s probably going to be one of the biggest adjustments that we’ll have to make,” said Chara. “When the crowd gets behind you, you feel the extra energy and you have that motivation to play for them.”

With the pain of losing the Stanley Cup in Game 7 at home last June still fresh in their minds, the Bruins started out the 2019-20 season on fire. While they’ll have the same motivation, a strong start – essential to survival in this tournament – may not be so easy.

“We were not sitting at home and away from hockey as long as other teams and we started playing with almost that same pace that we were playing in the playoffs, so that definitely helped us, especially early playing against teams that were off for a number of months,” said Chara. “I think that played a big role for being able to play at a much higher pace, but also play with a lot of motivation because of the way we ended last year. We took it as something we wanted to address early on, that it was not going to be affecting us. We wanted a fresh start and have a lot of energy and that’s what we did.

“It’s not going to be perfect. We’re going to be facing some possible uncomfortable situations, but we have to reset and rehearse a few of these things in our minds and get ready mentally for whatever’s going to be coming. Whoever makes the fastest adjustment and mentally be ready is going to benefit the most.”

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