By KYLE CICERELLA
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Thursday, April 19, 2018
TORONTO -- Boston's thrilling come-from-behind Game 7 win against Toronto in 2013 stands out as one of the good times for Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara in his 20-year career. However, his earliest memories of facing the Maple Leafs in the postseason bring back heartache rather than smiles.
Toronto's making just its sixth playoff appearance since 2002, yet it's the fourth time the Leafs have had to get past the long reach of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Chara.
Chara's earliest experiences against Toronto came way back in 2002 and 2004 as a member of the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs needed seven games to pull out the win in both series and the 41-year-old can still recall the 2004 set as one that stung, especially with the NHL lockout wiping away the entire next season.
"Mats [Sundin] was always one of those guys that was tough to defend - big, strong skated well. He carried a lot of the load," said Chara. "[But] I remember Joe Nieuwendyk, he had a few goals, maybe two, maybe a few."
Nieuwendyk, in fact, score five goals in the 2004 series, including two game winners. His two questionable first-period goals on goaltender Patrick Lalime in Game 7 led Toronto to a 4-1 win as the Leafs knocked Chara and Ottawa out of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. It was the only season Nieuwendyk dressed for the Leafs.
"He didn't play [for Toronto] long but had lots of success against us," Chara added. Toronto forward Mitch Marner grew up a Leafs fan and watched the series as a sixyear-old, although he doesn't recall many of the details.
"I just remember how big [Chara] was. I think everyone's like that when they see that guy," said Marner.
Chara entered this year's postseason with 147 career playoff games under his belt, 19 of those against the Leafs.
He made his NHL debut with the New York Islanders on Nov. 19, 1997, only five months after Marner was born.
Marner says it's hard to believe that the Slovak is still dominant today after 1,423 regular-season games in the NHL.
"It's very impressive," Marner said. "Still to this day he's still one of the top defencemen in the league. His size and how he uses his stick is very effective. He's very good at getting in lanes and blocking you out.
"He still hasn't really lost a step."
The Bruins currently lead the firstround series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Thursday at Air Canada Centre. Through the first three games Chara has averaged 21:32 of ice time with a goal in Game 3 while taking on all the hardest match-ups.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock isn't surprised that after so many years in the league that Chara doesn't shy away from anything on the ice.
"The playoffs for these kind of guys, it's like the fountain of youth," said Babcock.
"They have more jump in them, they compete harder, they know what's at stake."
Chara says that even at his age he has no intentions of retiring and future playoff match-ups with the Leafs are always possible, especially with the league putting a focus on division rivalries.
"I love this game, love competing, love working, and for me it's a passion," said the Bruins captain.
"It's a consistency, a focus. I want to continue to play, it's always been a lot of fun."