Zdeno Chara injury update: Bruins 'legend' (broken jaw) skates, will be game-time decision for Game 5

Zdeno Chara is “a legend for a reason,” an awed Bruins teammate says.

The Boston captain, who reportedly suffered a broken jaw in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday in St. Louis when he was struck in the face with a puck, was on the ice Thursday for Boston’s morning skate ahead of Game 5.

Chara was wearing a clear plastic wraparound chin guard on his helmet and was not in a red non-contact jersey as Boston prepared for the crucial 8 p.m. ET game.

Unable to speak to reporters, Chara, answering questions via the Bruins, said his situation ahead of Game 5 is no different than most players in the Final.

“At this time of the playoffs, everyone has injuries and there are challenges that you have to overcome to play,” Chara said. “I’m no different than any player on either team.”

Asked Thursday morning about the status of Chara and fellow defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who has been in the NHL’s concussion protocol, coach Bruce Cassidy said: “They’re on the ice now, so that’s a good sign. We’ll see how they feel around 7-7:30 tonight.”

Cassidy said the initial fear was that Chara sustained a concussion, but he didn’t. Cassidy said the doctor has to clear Chara. If he’s cleared, then it’s up to Chara if he feels he can or should play. However, if the doctor doesn’t clear Chara, the veteran has no say and won’t be allowed to play (per NHL.com).

Would Chara weigh the risk of being injured further if he’s left to decide whether to play?  “You don’t think about that,” Chara said. “You think about playing. You don’t go into a game thinking you might get hurt.”

Even by just taking part in the morning skate, Chara made a statement, his teammates said.

“That’s toughness, that’s leadership … the guy’s a legend for a reason,” defenseman John Moore said, offering for context, “The guy’s 42. When I’m 42, I’m certainly not going to be the first guy in the gym, weighing all my food, squatting the most on the team.”

Chara, 42, left Monday’s game at the 3:07 mark of the second period with blood dripping from his mouth in what became a 4-2 loss that evened the series at 2-2.

The Bruins haven’t offered any specifics on Chara’s injury, but The Athletic’s Blues reporter and Boston’s WEEI radio reported Tuesday that Chara’s jaw was broken in the incident. Both reports cited unidentified sources.

Cassidy after the game said only Chara “had some stitches, probably (will have) some dental work in the near future.”

Although WEEI’s source characterized Chara as “done-ski” for the Stanley Cup Final, Chara’s taking part in Thursday’s skate raises the possibility, even likelihood, that he’ll try and play. Chara wasn’t on the ice for the team’s practice Wednesday morning in Boston (per masslive.com).

“We prepare as if he’s going to play,” Blues coach Craig Berube said Wednesday (via KSDK.com). “That team will be hungry and that team will be desperate.”

Grzelcyk has been out since he was injured in Game 2 after a boarding penalty by the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist, who was suspended for Game 3 over the high hit.

The good news: Thursday marked Grzekcyk’s second consecutive day on the ice, this time in a regular black jersey. He practiced Wednesday, though he was in a red non-contact sweater.

Will he play Thursday? “Not really sure,” Grzekcyk said. “Coach said game-time decision. If I’m in, I’ll be ready to play.”

Cassidy reiterated on Thursday the possibility that the Bruins could employ seven defensemen and 11 forwards for the night’s game. 

Veteran Steven Kampfer and youngster Urho Vaakanainen, 20, practiced Wednesday on the Bruins’ third and fourth defensive pairings.

Those two, along with Jeremy Lauzon, 22, and Jakub Zboril, 22, are among the Bruins’ options on defense if Chara and Grzelcyk can’t play. Among that foursome, only Kampfer has played in this postseason, getting into two games. The other three played in a combined 20 regular-season games in 2018-19. 

After Chara went out Monday, Boston was forced to rely on its remaining five defensemen. Charlie McAvoy led the Bruins with 25:51 of ice time and Torey Krug was second at 24:11, per NHL.com.

There’s this context too: The re-energized Blues claimed after their victory that the relatively penalty-free heavy game they played to tie the series Monday took its toll on a thin Bruins back end. 

“I think we are wearing them down when they don’t have six (defensemen),” Sundqvist said. “Obviously, you don’t want to see a guy take puck in the mouth. It’s kind of like when you saw (Blues defenseman Vince Dunn) do it. But five D against our forecheck, I don’t think it’s that easy.” 

Chara was injured when Blues center Brayden Schenn’s shot hit Chara’s stick and deflected into his face. Chara fell to the ice and when he lifted his head there was blood visible. Cameras caught him with a bloodied mouth as he skated off the ice.

The defenseman returned to the bench in the third period with a full clear mask but did not get back into the game.

“That’s the type of guy he is, come out and be there to support,” Bruins center Charlie Coyle said. “You never want to see that happen to anyone, especially someone on your team, someone who is such a big part of our team playing-wise, leadership-wise. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s how you respond to adversity and you see a lot of it during this time of year.”

Through 20 playoff games, Chara is plus-12 with a goal and four assists. He played more than 24 minutes in Games 2 and 3, but was limited by the injury to just 8:23 in Game 4, though he did pick up an assist on Coyle’s goal.

The Blues were leading 2-1 when Chara went out, but the Bruins quickly scored in his absence to tie the score heading into the final period.

St. Louis scored two unanswered goals in the third to seal the first Stanley Cup Final victory on home ice in Blues history — and turn the series into a best-of-three affair.

Game 5 is set for 8 p.m. ET Thursday at TD Bank Garden.

With reporting by Sporting News’ Jackie Spiegel in Boston.