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Bruins captain Zdeno Chara (lower-body) out vs. Senators

11.23.16 at 1:25 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara

Zdeno Chara

For the third straight season, a preview of Life Without Zdeno Chara has hit the Bruins.

Injured in the second period of last night’s 4-2 loss to the Blues and absent from Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney confirmed via press release that Chara has suffered a lower-body injury that will keep him out of a Thanksgiving night tilt against the Senators.

It’s unclear how or where Chara sustained the injury (the best guess was a collision with the Blues’ Jaden Schwartz in the corner on his one, 52-second shift in the second period), but the Bruins will have to make do without their best defender for at least the Ottawa game, but perhaps the club’s signature Black Friday home game against Dougie Hamilton and the Flames also.

“He’s not coming on the road trip, obviously” B’s coach Claude Julien confirmed after practice. “From what I’ve been told, he’s day to day. Day to day to me I think it’s pretty doubtful for these next two games.

After that, we’ll see. So that’s where we are with him.”

The 39-year-old captain has been a rock on a top-pairing with 19-year-old rookie Brandon Carlo, with a team-leading 22:41 of time on ice per contest this season, and has chipped in with one goal and six points to go with his plus-12 rating. Chara also ranks 12th among defenseman with at least 300 minutes of five-on-five time on ice in Corsi-For%, at 53.0%, for a B’s club that’s currently leading the league in possession at five-on-five play. So his loss, even for a game, is noticeable.

“I think I’m going to answer it the same way the same way I answered it at the beginning of the year when you guys asked me about our d-corps,” Julien, whose team is allowing just 27.3 shots per game (the third-best mark in the league in that category), said of somebody else shouldering the load in Chara’s absence. “We’re going to have to do it by committee.”

Without Chara, the Bruins’ defensive committee reunited their training camp pairing with John-Michael Liles and Carlo, while the second pairing of Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid has become a de facto first pairing for the club. Joe Morrow remained on the left side of the team’s third pairing, and Kevan Miller, out for the first 19 games of the season with a fractured left hand that finished his preseason slate, has been cleared for action and skated to Morrow’s right.

This is not the first time the Bruins have to skate without their captain — Chara missed 19 games in 2014-15 and then the first two games of last season — but with a personnel group that’s changed drastically from 2014 to 2015, and even 2015 to now, Julien knows that there’s no quick-fix, plug-and-play option that’ll mask the loss of the club’s go-to shutdown talent.

“We just lost our best defender,” Julien admitted.

“There’s no individual that’s going to step up and do his job more than we’re going to have to do it as a group.”

The Bruins have gone 11-9-1 without Chara over the last two seasons, including an 0-2-0 mark last season.

 

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara injured in loss to Blues

11.22.16 at 10:46 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara

Zdeno Chara

The Bruins were riding high, with a 1-0 lead and feverish pace of play, early in the second period when the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara made his way to the bench, down the runway, and did not return. And by the time the rest of Chara’s team followed their captain’s lead and returned to the locker room following the third period and 41-shot barrage on the Blues’ Jake Allen, the Bruins had dropped a 4-2 final.

In one, 52-second shift in the middle frame, Chara’s probable and likely only cause of a potential injury came on a big collision the corner with Blues forward Jaden Schwartz.

“No,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said, as expected, after the game when asked for an update on the team’s No. 1 defenseman. “I’ve got nothing on him yet.”

With Chara gone, the Bruins rotated five defensemen, including makeshift top pairings with Torey Krug and John-Michael Liles in Chara’s spot opposite the 19-year-old Brandon Carlo.

The Blues exposed that, too, with two goals in 2:12 late in the second period, both with Carlo on the ice.

“It’s the first time he’s played without his partner,” Julien admitted of Carlo’s struggles with No. 33 off the ice.

“It just goes to show how important Z is to our hockey club and to Brandon.”

An extended Chara absence would likely thrust Colin Miller, a healthy scratch for the last four games, back into the lineup, as Kevan Miller (fractured left hand) is inching closer to a return, but is still not fully set to go.

The 39-year-old Chara has scored one goal and added five assists in 19 games this year, and is averaging a team-high 22:41 of time on ice per contest this season. Chara has missed 21 games — 19 of which because a knee injury sustained in a collision with the Islanders’ John Tavares in Oct. 2014 — since the start of the 2014-15 season.

The Bruins are back in game action Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators.

5 Things We Learned as Zdeno Chara injury allows Blues to run wild on Bruins

11.22.16 at 9:42 pm ET
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David Backes scored his fourth goal of the season, and his first against his former team, Tuesday against the Blues. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Backes scored his fourth goal of the season, and his first against his former team, Tuesday against the Blues. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

At 39, 6-foot-9 captain Zdeno Chara is still every bit as important to the Bruins as he was when he first came to the team 10 years ago. Something the team learned — or better yet, were painfully reminded of — the hard way in a 4-2 Tuesday loss to the Blues at TD Garden.

Up by one through the opening frame behind David Backes’ fourth goal of the season — and his first in as many appearances against his former team — scored on the power play 7:44 into the first period, the Bruins jumped on the Blues in a 20-minute stretch that left the Blues frustrated and with just seven shots on goal.

But when Chara returned to the B’s locker room after just one shift in the second period, a 52-second shift in the opening minute plus, and did not return, the Blues simply exposed the Black and Gold’s massive loss on the backend.

Forward Jori Lehtera was the first to find the back of the net for St. Louis with a brilliant tip-in through Tuukka Rask, and although the Bruins countered with an equally pretty Dominic Moore shorthanded tally midway through the period, the loss of Big Z was exposed in just 2:12.

Robert Bortuzzo’s first goal of the season scored under a sprawling Brandon Carlo brought the Blues and Bruins even at 2-2, and just two shifts later, with Carlo paired with Torey Krug instead of his partner on the Bortuzzo goal (John-Michael Liles), the Blues once again attacked the 19-year-old’s side, with Paul Stastny keeping the puck out of his reach for his fifth goal of the year.

Without Chara, Carlo looked every bit the rookie, and struggled to find his footing — at least in the calming manner B’s fans had become accustomed to during his time with the perennial Norris candidate — and a veteran Blues team made the Bruins pay.

The Bruins found chances, but struggled to get another close to a real quality chance with the exception of a last-minute rebound blast from Ryan Spooner stopped by the Blues’ Jake Allen, and a Lehtera empty-net goal gave this one a 4-2 final.

Here are four other things we learned in the loss

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David Backes excited to play his former team as Bruins and Blues clash

11.22.16 at 2:55 pm ET
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David Backes will play against the St. Louis Blues for the first time in his career tonight. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

David Backes will play against the St. Louis Blues for the first time in his career tonight. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

A decade into his NHL career, Bruins forward David Backes will do a first tonight at TD Garden, and that’s play against the St. Louis Blues.

That’s because this is his first meeting against the city and team he called his own for 10 seasons — including seven with a letter on his jersey and five as the team’s captain — since coming to the Black and Gold on a five-year, $30 million contract on July 1.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions,” Backes admitted ahead of his first head-to-head with his former team following the team’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “You’re going to see a lot of familiar faces. [I] just want to stay in the moment and do what I can to help our team.

“Lot of good people over there, lot of good friends, but we’re wearing different jerseys tonight.”

In a B’s jersey and on a second line with David Krejci (and now Matt Beleskey on the left instead of Ryan Spooner), the 32-year-old Backes has been as advertised for the Bruins group that really wanted — and needed — another voice in their locker room.

“I think there’s a lot in his personality that makes him a natural leader,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Backes’ impact. “His demeanor has been a great addition to our room. We’ve lost some guys like Chris Kelly, who was really good in the room, Shawn Thornton was another guy. You always look for people that are going to be able to do both. Off the ice he’s been a great addition to our group, and at the same time, he’s a leader on the ice as far as making his linemates and others accountable.”

What’s made Backes such a key addition to the Bruins beyond the numbers (he’s recorded three goals and seven points in 13 games this year) has been his wealth of experience and knowledge in almost every possible situation. But this situation is new.

“You relish the opportunity playing your old team, but at the same time it’s unfamiliar territory,” Backes said of tonight’s tilt. “There’s not a ton of stuff I haven’t experienced in this league, but this is one of them.”

But No. 42 is not going to let him shy away from playing his brand of hockey.

“I think they’re well aware and I’m well aware that we’re going after two points tonight,” Backes continued.

“And as long as I’m shooting on the right net, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Craig Cunningham in thoughts of former Bruins teammates

11.22.16 at 1:46 pm ET
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Craig Cunningham spent four years in the Bruins organization. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

Craig Cunningham spent four years in the Bruins organization. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

When one of hockey’s good guys, journeyman sparkplug Craig Cunningham, collapsed before a Saturday night in an AHL game, the hockey world seemed to have collapsed with him.

Crumbled onto the ice with an apparent cardiac episode, the 26-year-old Cunningham was escorted off the ice on a stretcher, the game was postponed, and Cunningham was rushed to a nearby hospital. Within minutes of the news reaching those in the National Hockey League, Cunningham’s teammates past and present took to social media to express their concern and say their prayers.

But there’s considerable familiarity with Cunningham in the B’s dressing room, as Cunningham, a fourth-round draft pick (97th overall) of the club in 2010, made many friends during his four-year run with the organization from 2011 to 2015.

“[Cunningham]’s an incredible person,” Brad Marchand said after Tuesday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the fortune to play with. It’s terrible to see what’s happened to him, what he’s going through, and what his family has had to go through.”

A true glue-guy that developed into a legitimate leader for the Providence Bruins and an energetic fill-in for 34 games with the Big B’s, there’s not a bad thing that could been said about Cunningham both as a player and as a person during his tenure in Boston.

“If you read what’s been written about him, it’s what everyone is going to say about this guy, he’s a class act,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Cunningham. “You really couldn’t find a better individual as far as a teammate, a player to coach, on the ice he’s just one of those guys that leaves it all out there. Quality, quality person.”

With the Coyotes organization since they nabbed him away from the Bruins via the waiver wire on Mar. 2, 2015, Cunningham is still thought of in the B’s room, especially through his latest fight.

“In the room, we’re constantly thinking about him and praying for him,” Marchand admitted.

Cunningham is in critical but stable condition, according to the Coyotes.

Bruins’ David Pastrnak out for third straight contest while Frank Vatrano returns to ice

11.22.16 at 12:47 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano

In search of their fourth straight victory at home with tonight’s head-to-head with the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins will once again be down their top goal scorer, as David Pastrnak is still not fully healed from an upper-body injury that’s put him on the shelf for the last three games.

“I just think he’s at the point where he’s not ready to play yet,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Pastrnak following the team’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “When he is, he’ll be back in the lineup.

“He’s progressing, but he’s still day-to-day.”

The Bruins are 3-1-0 with Pastrnak out of action this season, and won their last sans Pastrnak contest, Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Jets at TD Garden. No. 88’s spot on the right side of the Bruins’ first line will continue to be occupied by versatile forward Riley Nash.

In other injury news, winger Frank Vatrano was on the ice well after the morning skate ended in what was his first on-ice session since undergoing foot surgery on Sept. 26. The surgery was expected to come with a three-month long recovery according to Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, which would put Vatrano in line for a return in late December.

An undrafted talent out of UMass-Amherst, the 22-year-old Vatrano scored eight goals and 11 points in 39 games for the Bruins last year, and tallied an AHL-leading 36 goals in 36 games for the Providence Bruins a year ago.

Ex-Bruins draft bust Zach Hamill signs in Sweden

11.22.16 at 8:08 am ET
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Zach Hamill

Zach Hamill

The European tour of Zach Hamill, a former first-round pick (seventh overall) of the Bruins in 2007, will continue on for yet another season.

After a 2015-16 season spent between HC Fribourg-Gotteron and Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss League, and then finished with the Iserlohn Roosters of the DEL (Germany), the 28-year-old Hamill has officially signed a contract with IF Bjorkloven (Sweden).

IF Bjorkloven is part of the Swedish Allsvenskan, their second-tier division of pro hockey, one step below the Swedish Elite League as it’s known in North America.

It’s just the latest stop in an undeniably weird pro career that saw Hamill flame out in both the B’s, Capitals, and Canucks organizations before he packed his bags for life overseas.

In Boston, Hamill will always be known for being selected by the Bruins just one pick before Logan Couture, a now five-time 20-goal scorer, was selected by the Sharks. Other names taken shortly after Hamill include Ryan McDonagh, Lars Eller, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Max Pacioretty.

Hamill tallied four assists in 20 NHL games, all with the Bruins, from 2010 to 2012.

Of the six picks made by the Bruins in the 2007 draft, only second-round choice Tommy Cross remains in the organization.

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