As former Bruins captain Zdeno Chara stepped out on the ice for his first game back at TD Garden, he was met with silence. No fans to give him a standing ovation, only a small tribute on the video board, and some stick taps from his fellow and former teammates.
“You know it really didn't seem like it was a good enough tribute for him, and that’s just because of the situation,” said Brad Marchand.
The absence of fans took away from what would have been a special moment for the Bruins’ long-time captain. It took away from what Bruins players felt as well.
“It wasn't as emotional for me as it would have been if there were fans in the stands,” Tuukka Rask said after the game. “…Well, I mean it sucks that there’s no fans in the building. That’s half the tribute when the fans are there and they're cheering. I believe he would have gotten a pretty long standing ovation.”
While the video tribute did include messages of thanks from several Bruins fans, there will at least be some in the stands to salute Big Z in person when the Capitals return to Boston on April 18 and 20 for their final meetings of the regular season. By then TD Garden will be open at 12% capacity, accommodating about 2,100 spectators.
“I felt a little bad for him that there wasn't 18,000 plus fans here giving him the ovation he deserved,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Cassidy also said seeing Chara’s video tribute in the first period brought back a specific memory from Chara’s time with the Bruins.
“I certainly thought of the St. Louis final, coming back from a broken jaw was the first thing that went through my head, and the ovation he got that night. I'm sure it would have been very similar,” Cassidy said.
Wednesday night marked the first time Chara competed in Boston as a member of another team since 2006 for the Ottawa Senators.
Since then, Chara had plenty of memorable moments in his 14 years with the Bruins, including lifting the Stanley Cup in 2011, collecting both a Norris Trophy and Mark Messier Leadership Award, and making five NHL All-Star Games.
The 43-year-old has yet to ramp down his effort, leading the Capitals this year in plus-minus (+11), averaging 19:24 time on ice per game, and being only one of eight Capitals that has played all 22 games in 2021.
“Obviously we love Z, he was a great teammate and a phenomenal role model for everyone here. He came in, he was a big reason the organization turned around,” Marchand said. “It's always great to see him and play him, nice little tribute, but I’m sure he will enjoy the next one when the fans are here.”