For many reasons — his importance, his regular-season body of work, his expected playoff workload are among the primary factors — defenseman Zdeno Chara remained at home yesterday instead of joining his teammates at the Prudential Center.

It was a well-deserved award for one of the team's two most valuable players.

"He's been on his game an awful lot this year,'' said goalie Tim Thomas, the club's other cornerstone. "He plays against the top guys in the league, night in and night out. That is not an easy job to do. Not only does he do it, he excels at it. Playing with Zdeno over these years, you grow to appreciate him more and more and more. You realize how big of a difference-maker he is to this team and how much a key he is to our success.''