BOSTON -- Since dehydration caused him to miss Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Montreal Canadiens, Zdeno Chara had just one assist. Many were wondering where the Boston Bruins captain's offensive and physical flair was and whether he was battling an injury.
But while those on the outside questioned the Norris Trophy candidate, Chara's coach and teammates never doubted him and saw a player steadily improving as the playoffs went on. That's why they weren't surprised when Chara lit the lamp twice and added in assist in the Bruins' 5-1 win at TD Garden on Wednesday night in Game 3 against of their semifinals series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Nobody in this room has ever said a bad word about the guy and he's been our proven leader since I've been here for four years," Thornton said of Chara. "He's a dynamic hockey player and arguably the toughest guy in the league. He's the biggest guy in the league and has a skill set that you don't see too often.
"He's our captain and he's been awesome for us all year. He's just another guy that we feed off of. ... There's not too many guys built like him in this league, and he can do it all. He's 6-9, 250 [pounds], can shoot the puck a million miles an hour, he's hard to play against and he can skate. So we're very, very fortunate to have him on our team."
As Bruins coach Claude Julien pointed out after the game, Chara and defensive partner Dennis Seidenberg -- who had an assist Wednesday -- have been a solid pairing for the Bruins throughout the playoffs. It was only a matter of time before Chara broke through with his cannon of a shot, as he did on both goals in Game 3, the second of which broke the Bruins' 0-for-30 power-play drought.
"Those guys have been so strong for us, not only as a pair, but also as individuals," Julien said of Chara and Seidenberg. "As you saw, Zdeno's shot is one that, certainly, goaltenders don't like to see. He's got that ability, and tonight, I thought he used it well."
Goalie Tim Thomas knows first-hand just how hard Chara's shot -- which set the record in the All Star skills competition the past two seasons -- can be and feels for opposing goalies that endure the wrath of it. But when Thomas isn't facing that shot, he enjoys watching the puck find the back of the net.
"It is great to see him get that offense going," Thomas said. "He has that potential. He's got an amazing shot. Ask the opposing goalies that are facing it; it is no fun to see that guy winding up on you. He gets himself in the right spots and getting those goals. It makes it easier on the whole team."
Forward Daniel Paille was happy to see the 'Big Z' get the offense going, as well.
"'Z', he's dominant," Paille said. "You can see it, especially [Wednesday]. Obviously, with his shot, [it] is a cannon, so you don't want to get hit by that. But it's nice to see him score two nice goals like that. And I think that's what he likes.
"And obviously it's nice to see no one get hurt from the shot -- from our team, anyway."
As for the captain, he was just happy to help his team win. To Chara, the points are secondary.
"Well, we all know that the most important thing right now is wins," Chara said, "and I said it all along, if you can help out offensively, that's a plus. Not for me, personally, I really try to focus on my defensive game. Play strong throughout the games and I'm not really worried about points. I'm just counting wins, and that's the way we look at it in the room. It's nice to score, there is no question about that, but I think that we all know it's all about the wins."
And for Chara and the Bruins, it's about getting that one win that eluded them last season when they found themselves in the exact same situation with a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers.
"We are glad that we are in the position that we are," Chara said. "But still there is one more win we have to accomplish to move on, and that is where our focus is right now."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.