Tomas Tatar resorted to size-ism to identify the two Z’s in his life, because he got tired of wondering whether it was his Red Wings teammate or his Slovak teammate calling.
Zdeno Chara — towering captain of the Boston Bruins — became “big Z,” while Henrik Zetterberg — ailing captain of the Red Wings — remained simply Z.
When the first-round series between these Original Six clubs — who haven’t met in the playoffs in 57 years — begins Friday, the Bruins are favored to win, and Chara is, literally, a huge reason why. He has talent to match his 6-foot-9 frame, a height unheard of in hockey — and one best approached with humor.
Take, for example, Wings coach Mike Babcock’s reply Tuesday when asked about Chara.
“When he stands in between the hash marks in his own zone,” Babcock said, “he has one foot on one hash and one foot on the other hash, and he can reach your blue line.”
And when Chara stands in front of one’s net, “he’s a massive human being,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said.
The Wings can’t carry slingshots in their gloves when they face Chara, so the effective countermeasure is speed. The Wings have it this spring — Gustav Nyquist called it “one of our biggest strengths” — and that’s why playing with structure will be crucial.
“You only have speed if you execute,” Babcock said. “If you don’t execute, you have no speed. So their focus will be to take our speed away by getting on the forecheck and making sure we can’t execute. And our focus will be first-time execution, so we can have speed, so we can play in their zone.”
Babcock called Chara — certain to be a finalist in June for what could be a second Norris Trophy — a better person and leader than player, the sort “you build franchises around.” Tatar calls Chara a friend.