BOSTON -- Zdeno Chara could sense something just wasn't right with his team and even himself over the first five games. His team was 2-3-0, but it wasn't really the record that put up a red flag. Rather, it was the inconsistent play and lack of hunger and fire that usually burns in him and his teammates.
"You could feel it, yeah," Chara said of the feeling and lack of focus around the dressing room when the season started. "I wasn't where I needed to be either, and the team just needed more emotion."
That's why when Chara saw his teammate Nathan Horton -- who suffered a serious concussion in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals and missed the remainder of the season -- being harassed and challenged by Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison in the 4-1 loss to Carolina on Tuesday night, Chara decided it was time to send a message. He wanted to tell not only the Hurricanes and future opponents that the Bruins won't get pushed around, but also his teammates that they needed to pick up their game and not allow opponents to take liberties.
While the Bruins followed suit with their emotions in a less-than-controlled way and were assessed 72 minutes of penalties -- giving the Hurricanes numerous 5-on-3's and nine power plays -- they got the message that it was time to get back to being the emotional and edgy bunch that won the Stanley Cup last June.
"He's our captain and he's been doing a good job not only bringing a physical presence as always but he's been leading the team in every way he can," defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "Whether it's been more offense from him, more defense, more emotion, you could see him pick it up over the last few games and lead us. Especially that game against Carolina when we saw him drop the mits, it showed us he wants to win just as bad as we wanted to win last year and that's what we need. It was time to wake up and he woke us up."
That emotion from Chara and from his teammates carried over into their game with Toronto on Thursday night in a positive and controlled manner, and it translated into their most complete game of the season, a 6-2 drubbing of their Northeast rivals who had not lost in regulation to that point. Chara was not only his usual physical and defensive force but he was jumping into plays in the offensive zone, scoring on a rocket shot from the top of the face-off circle and adding two assists for his first three points of the season.
"It's nice to contribute offensively, but honestly my main goal is to defend and shut down guys," Chara said. "But I was glad we could do that and also create offense."
But for Chara, it wasn't just the points that had him happy, it was that he was able to jumpstart his team and help them find their game again.
"That's my responsibility as a leader and as a captain, to make some moves and show the way," Chara said. "I felt that was the right timing for me and the whole team to get it going. I also wanted to protect Nathan, and while it didn't go our way that game it sent a message and woke us up for the next game and hopefully the coming games."
Head coach Claude Julien wasn't the least bit surprised that Chara read the situation and took the initiative to correct things.
"He takes pride in that," Julien said of Chara's leadership. "It's not something that has to be forced upon him. It's in his blood and he's always been a hard competitor. Whether it's conditioning and whether it's the game, when he doesn't play well, he certainly knows and he doesn't necessarily have to be told every time. If anything you just try to help him out to tell him to do certain things a little differently to help his game. He sees what's happening and he's one of those guys who came in and said 'You know what? Last year's last year,' this year's this year.' For the most part our group has had the right approach but that doesn't mean that mentally, just because you have that approach, that mentally you're ready to sustain that approach. He's just trying to lead us."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.