- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2012

BOSTON — It may not be an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, but it’s hard to argue with NBC analyst Pierre McGuire’s assertion that Alex Ovechkin vs. Zdeno Chara is a “titanic battle.”

Parties on both sides tried to downplay it this week, but Ovechkin vs. Chara is expected to be one of the most-watched aspects of this first-round playoff series between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins.

“[Chara is] probably going to be on the ice whenever Ovi is, and that’s a pretty daunting task for both players, to be honest,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “They’re both good players, they both need to find room out there, and I think it’s going to be a real good battle in this series.”

Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said, “Chara takes pride in shutting down Ovechkin,” and the captain called it a source of more motivation.

But Chara doesn’t need extra incentive. He had a career year offensively (12 goals, 40 assists), and many around the NHL think he’s at the top of his game defensively, too.

“Chara’s a Norris Trophy winner for a reason, and he’s just dynamite.” NBC Sports play-by-play man Mike Emrick said. “I would not want to be the guy assigned to play against him.”

At 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, Chara doesn’t plod along either. Ex-teammate Dennis Wideman said he moves well for his height, something that has him on pace to potentially win another Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.

“Everybody knows he’s tough, strong,” Ovechkin said. “He’s big and we have to use his side [of the ice]. I think we have small forwards and more faster than him and we’re just going to use it.”

Unlike earlier in his career, Ovechkin is not in line for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, as his production slipped in recent seasons. But that doesn’t take away from the gravity of this matchup.

“He’s a great player. He can make a big difference in the game,” Chara said. “I think it’s just my job to play against top lines and top players, and so I know I have to take care of that part of the game.”

Though this series is the first postseason meeting between the Caps and Bruins since 1998, Ovechkin and Chara have seen plenty of each other over the years. Since the big defenseman signed with Boston in 2006, Ovechkin has faced him 21 times and recorded 10 goals and 15 assists.

But Ovechkin doesn’t have a goal, save for an empty-netter, in the past seven games against the Bruins over the past two seasons.

Alex has had some pretty good stretches, but you have a sense that it’s a matter of finding himself,” Emrick said. “He usually rises to the occasion in these playoffs.”

The early effort from coach Dale Hunter was to put Brooks Laich and Brouwer on Ovechkin’s line to give the star left wing some space.

“If he gets special attention from the forward and the D, someone else is open,” Hunter said. “So definitely the other guys got to work as a line together and play together as a line.”

For Game 2, Bruins coach Claude Julien again will have the advantage of being able to match Chara up with Ovechkin thanks to the benefit of the last change at home. When the series shifts to Verizon Center, Ovechkin might be able to get more favorable opportunities.

Even so, expect Ovechkin and Chara to share the same patch of ice often.

“It’s going to be nice. It’s not going to be just against me and Chara,” Ovechkin said. “It’s going to be Boston vs. Washington, and of course our personalities are going to be out there, but the most important thing is how is the team going to respond to what’s going to happen out there.”

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