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CHICAGO – Marian Hossa couldn’t ask for a better neighbor than Zdeno Chara.

But Chara just might be the biggest nightmare as an opponent — particularly with a championship on the line.

The 6-foot-9 Boston Bruins defenseman has been causing all sorts of havoc for opponents and is a major reason why his team is aiming for its second championship in three years.

The Bruins are set to take on Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, the first time Original Six franchises are meeting for the title since 1979.

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It will also be friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor.

Hossa and Chara played junior hockey together, and they live in apartments across the street from each other in Slovakia.

“I’ll try to joke with him because he likes to be serious all the time on the ice,” Hossa said. “He doesn’t like to talk on the ice, so I just try to throw some funny stories (at him) and hopefully make him laugh.”

Anything to break the ice, particularly if it distracts an opponent.

Chara has been a big reason why the Bruins are back in the Final.

“You have no idea what this guy does for a hockey club,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “The few times he has been out of our lineup, you’ve seen a difference. That’s the impact that he has on our hockey club. Again, I think we’ve had an up-and-down second half of a short season.

“I’m sure that played a role in maybe looking at others for the Norris Trophy. But, again, I don’t think it has changed our views on him. He has been an MVP for us since the day he stepped into that dressing room and continues to be.”

Chara was the focal point in a game plan that kept former league most valuable players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without a point while the Bruins swept normally high-scoring Pittsburgh in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.

The Blackhawks are so concerned about him, it looks as if they are putting stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on different lines.

They were on separate lines in practice Monday, with Toews working with Hossa and Patrick Sharp and Kane skating with Michal Handzus and Bryan Bickell. It could be gamesmanship or a signal the Blackhawks are trying to keep one of their top scorers away from Chara.

Either way, it shows how big an impact he has had in the playoffs.

Around the NHL

Alain Vigneault, fired last month after coaching the Vancouver Canucks for seven seasons, is perhaps the leading candidate to fill the New York Rangers’ coaching vacancy.

Vigneault met with Rangers general manager Glen Sather and the team’s management staff Monday in La Quinta, Calif.

The Rangers have also received permission to interview Lindy Ruff, who was fired as the Buffalo coach this season, his 15th behind the Sabres’ bench.

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