PREVIEW: Zdeno Chara set for return to Boston as Washington Capitals face Bruins

Feb 25, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) celebrates with Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) after their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Had it been scheduled later this month, Zdeno Chara’s first game back in Boston after 14 years with the Bruins could have coincided with the recently approved return of fans to TD Garden.

But that’s not how it worked out for the Washington Capitals defenseman. As it stands, it makes no difference to him as the Capitals prepare to visit the Bruins for the first time this season on Wednesday night.

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“The environment (in Boston) is something I was very close with for many years, but I think we all have to realize that once the puck is dropped, you really have to focus on what’s going on inside the glass and just perform,” said the 43-year-old Chara, who is averaging 19:24 of ice time in his first season with the Capitals.

Boston’s first home game with fans is slated to take place March 23, with 12-percent capacity being admitted per the state of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 protocols.

Wednesday’s matchup will be the first of two this week between the teams. The Capitals and Bruins play again in Boston on Friday.

Washington has won three in a row and boasts a 6-1-1 mark in its last eight games, while Boston is coming off a 4-1 rout of the New York Rangers on Sunday. The Bruins had been outscored 13-4 in their previous two contests.

“That’s Bruins hockey for us,” said forward Charlie Coyle, who scored twice in Sunday’s win. “We get the result more times than not when we play that way. You could see it every shift, guys doing their job and playing their role. It plays into our identity, and that’s huge.”

Boston’s defense also clamped down after its back-to-back rough showings. Tuukka Rask made 20 saves against New York.

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In another positive, the Bruins welcomed center David Krejci (lower body) back to practice in a regular jersey Tuesday. Krejci has been sidelined since Feb. 18. Also practicing was defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who has been out since Feb. 10 with a lower-body injury.

Washington has some key injuries of its own, with center Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body) missing the team’s two-game series against the New Jersey Devils over the weekend. It didn’t slow the team down too much, as the Capitals recorded 5-2 and 3-2 victories.

Sunday’s win saw goaltender Ilya Samsonov make 19 saves in his first game since Jan. 17 following a lengthy recovery from COVID-19. Samsonov allowed goals early in the first and second periods before settling in to hold the Devils off in a scoreless third period.

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“When it’s 3-2 and the game is hanging in the balance, I actually thought that’s when (Samsonov) was at his best, and so he did get better as the game went on,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “In the third period, he made some really key saves for our team, which allowed us to walk out with the points.”

The Capitals and Bruins played twice earlier this season at Washington. The teams split the meetings, although Boston left with three points (1-0-1) after dropping a 4-3 overtime decision on Jan. 30 and posting a 5-3 win two days later.

–Field Level Media