However inadvertently, hulking Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil pumped new life into his club by way of bumping Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk out of Saturday’s engagement at Scotiabank Place. And in the process, he garnered a little assistance from the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara.
Boychuk, the recipient of an impactful open-ice hit in front of the far wall of his own zone with 17:06 left in regulation, skated off under his own power, but saw no further action. Neil, who momentarily crumbled to the ice himself in wake of the collision, was not penalized, which implicitly prompted the Boston captain to seek a ration of self-served justice.
Nearly 11 minutes of playing time elapsed between the Neil-Boychuk encounter and a fight between Neil and his former teammate, Chara. In the interim, David Krejci had augmented a 3-1 Boston lead to 4-1.
But with Boychuk out of commission and Chara in the sin bin to serve his fighting major from the 13-minute mark to the 18-minute mark, the door gaped open for a frenzied Ottawa rally.
The remaining two-set of Boston blue-liners was left to safeguard the ostensibly cozy three-goal lead, which would be shriveled to a 4-3 difference by Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson. As it happened, the likes of Joe Corvo, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid each lost a plus/minus point apiece, splitting the shifts on Alfredsson’s connections.
For the better part of the first two periods, Chara and Boychuk were on duty to curb Alfredsson and/or Jason Spezza, who completed his playmaker hat trick upon watching his captain beat Tim Thomas with 2:08 to spare.
Had Chara swallowed his excess loyalty to his usual defensive partner, odds are he would have been in action opposite Seidenberg, his first-unit colleague in last year’s playoff run, to neutralize one or both of Alfredsson’s fruitful attacks.
Granted, there was no long-term damage by night’s end. Less than two minutes after Alfredsson inched his club to within a strike, Patrice Bergeron wrapped up his own multi-goal, three-point evening with an empty-netter to finalize a 5-3 Bruins victory.
But moving forward, Chara can take the instantaneously dramatized conclusion to Saturday’s bout as a cautionary tale. In the defining stages of a game, he need not pursue a course of action that will remove him from the equation for a protracted period of play.
Furthermore, it need not be stressed that a player of Chara’s stature and sculpture could easily place himself in Neil’s skates. When viewed in slow motion, the chief factor in Boychuk being bowled over was his own momentum as he accelerated in the effort to launch a rolling breakout from his own end.
On Boston’s end, it is certainly unfortunate that Boychuk was lost for the better part of the third period and that Bruins buffs are now forced to hold their breath over even the slightest specter of another injury. But compared to Neil, Chara stands just as much chance of inflicting a similar scenario on an opponent.
There was no score to be settled here. Instead of coming to the defense of one teammate, Chara should have joined his 17 other active teammates in focusing on putting the Senators away for the night.
The heat-of-the-moment plea would be understandable enough, especially since it did not come back to burn Chara and the Bruins this time. Nonetheless, everything stemming from the Boychuk-Neil-Chara saga bears an important new nugget of wisdom for future reference.