WILMINGTON, Mass. — Zdeno Chara sat calmly at his locker, concerned more about beating the Montreal Canadiens in the tight division race than getting beat up by them.
Thursday night’s rematch comes 16 days after Max Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra after a hard check by the Boston Bruins captain knocked him into a padded stanchion supporting a glass partition between the teams’ benches.
Might the Canadiens seek retribution on the ice?
“I don’t know,” Chara said after practice Wednesday. “We’ll see.”
Montreal’s Ryan White thinks his team has more important business to handle. Boston leads the Northeast Division with 90 points with 10 games left. Montreal is second with 87 and eight games remaining. There’s a decent chance they’ll meet in the first round of the playoffs.
“We need two points,” White said. “We’re not going to go in there and try and do anything stupid and get him back or anything like that. If you ask (Pacioretty), I think the biggest thing right now is for us to win. We’ve given ourselves an opportunity to catch these guys.”
Chara is focusing on stopping a team that is 4-1 against Boston this season.
“We all know it’s a big game for both teams,” he said.
The game in which Pacioretty was hurt, won by Montreal 4-1, cranked up the historic rivalry between the teams.
Montreal police began an investigation of the hit. Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said his club didn’t agree with the NHL’s decision not to suspend Chara. Two days after the check, Pacioretty was released from a hospital, his agent said.
He’ll be able to resume training with contact by early or mid-April, according to coach Jacques Martin. And there’s a chance he’ll be back during the playoffs after early fears that the injury might be more serious.
“I’m glad that he’s doing much better,” Chara said. “It’s kind of surprising good news.”
He said he made “a few attempts” to reach out to Pacioretty but hasn’t received a response.
The 6-foot-9 Chara said he had no intention to hurt the 6-2 forward. He received a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct but has never been suspended in his 13-year career.
Meanwhile, the investigation remains open, Montreal police spokesman Daniel Lacoursiere said Wednesday.
“The file is still under investigation,” he said.
After the hit, Chara was criticized by Montreal fans and media.
“It’s tough to really address that. I don’t know if I should even try,” he said. “It was a really bad accident. … I can’t control what they talk about me or what the say about me. I just try to focus on my game.”
Fellow Boston defenseman Andrew Ference doesn’t think the criticism affected Chara much.
“I don’t think he’s a guy whose attitude is based on external opinions,” Ference said. “You don’t want to go through something like that, but I think he puts a lot more stock in his friends’ and family’s opinions than he does of people on the outside giving their two cents.”
The game against Montreal was the second in a seven-game slump in which Boston went 1-3-3. That followed a seven-game winning streak. The Bruins played aggressively in their last game, a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night in which Chara scored the goal that broke a 1-1 tie and added two assists.
“I liked his game” on Tuesday, coach Claude Julien said when asked about Chara’s attitude since the hit on Pacioretty. “He’s handled himself as good as he can and he’s fine.”
Montreal lost to the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 on Tuesday night and is 2-4 since its last game with Boston.
The Canadiens’ previous meeting with the Bruins added to the intense rivalry. There were 182 penalty minutes in Boston’s 8-6 win at home on Feb. 9.
“When you have a real rivalry, you’ll get incidents like that that have happened this year,” Martin said, “but both teams realize the importance of the standings and the importance of home ice for the playoffs.”
The Bruins are a bigger, more physical team and won’t be looking over their shoulders for any Canadiens trying to get back at them for Chara’s hit, said Milan Lucic, who has 30 goals — and 106 penalty minutes — for Boston.
“Z can take care of himself,” Lucic said, “so if they want to go after him, good luck.”
Chara, though, plans to keep his emotions focused on playing hockey.
“It’s part of the game to be emotional and play with a lot of energy and jump,” he said, “but you just have to keep the emotions bottled up and not (let) the emotions take over the game.”
And White said, the Canadiens have to “stick together … and if something happens, something happens.”