Lucic establishing "leader" credentials

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Lucic establishing "leader" credentials

BOSTON -- The same words are often tossed around with Milan Lucic.

Words like beast, intimidator, bruiser and prototypical power forward have always been associated with the Bruins left winger during his five seasons in Boston.

But theres a new one that continues to emerge as he gains in experience and stature around the league: leader.

Great leaders summon signature performances when their team needs them most in the big moments, and Lucic had himself a whale of a game in a very necessary 4-3 shootout win over the Nashville Predators at TD Garden.

Leadership is about action every bit as much as its about words, and he had both going for him in a pivotal Saturday matinee.

It was Lucic that tied the game with less than two minutes remaining in the third period to assure Boston would get the overtime point, it was Lucic that led the Bruins with seven shots on net while dominating through 60 minutes and it was Lucic that made sure his hockey club got the W by whatever means were necessary.

Tyler Seguin had a solid effort in his own right with offensive chances and Bostons first score in the shootout, but he didnt hesitate when asked what he was thinking watching No. 17 barrel his way through the Preds.

I was thinking hes a leader, said Seguin. We definitely needed our leaders to step up tonight and they definitely did. Zee, Bergie and Loochthe list goes on. I think all the guys stepped up today and showed good character.

Character has never been in doubt for Lucic during his five seasons in Boston, and in the last two years his on-ice production and consistency have matched all of the intangibles he brings to the table. Lucic was just an 18-year-old learning the ropes when he first arrived in town, but his imprint on the Black and Gold has grown stronger and stronger each season.

It was Lucic, after all, who had a goal taken from him early in the embarrassing 6-0 loss to the Sabres.

He was the poster boy for the frustration and aggravation the Bs felt after enduring one of the worst spankings Lucic has endured during his time with the Bruins.

He harnessed all that frustration and pent-up anger into one of his best games of the year. True to his nature, he also didnt want the credit afterward despite being Bostons best forward on the ice that day.

Its, you know not just myself, I think the whole team we have a lot of pride. We dont like losing, even if its 1-0 never mind 6-0. You never want to get down on yourself and start feeling sorry for yourself. I think thats when the pride kicks in. Its up to different guys at different times to step up and play big at key moments, said Lucic. We had that here today. You look at the Campbell line there, theyve been playing so well for so long and they just havent been getting the results.

They finally step up and score a big goal for us so. I talked about it yesterdaysomeone asked me if you cant just depend on one line going and getting all the goals. You have to get it by committee. I think we had all 20 guys definitely going here tonight.

It would have been heart-breaking had Mike Fishers third period goal through the pads of Tim Thomas served as the regulation game-winner after the Bruins had dominated the Predators through three periods. But Lucic and his teammates have learned about the refusal to lose while grinding all the way to a Stanley Cup championship.

That Stanley Cup level stubbornness was on display with the Bruins determined to make Saturday the day that their stretch of mediocrity is dead and buried.

Thats what we were talking about most: not getting frustrated, staying on course, keep getting pucks to the net, keep trying to find those rebounds and keep creating those scoring chances. We wanted to keep working hard and getting on pucks, said Lucic. That was more of the talk than guys getting on each other or getting on themselves. It was a pretty positive feeling on the bench and it was a workman-like feel on the bench and on the ice too. Thats what kept us going for that whole game.

Desperation was in full flight as the Bruins had pulled Tim Thomas from the game, and all comeback efforts seemed futile against Pekka Rinne on a day that he was feeling it. But the Bruins kept pushing and Lucic drew a tripping call on Sergei Kostitsyn while controlling the puck in the offensive zone. That gave Lucic and the Bruins a punchers chance to tie things up.

They did just that on the ensuing power play when Rich Peverley fired a shot wide from the high slot that bounced off the end boards, and took a quick bounce back toward the front of the net. Lucic was barreling down with all his speed crashing at the net, and he lifted a backhander over Rinne after the puck bounced directly on his stick.

With 67 seconds left on the clock it was Lucic giving his Bruins life where it appeared there was none.

At that stage, its all out. We had some good puck bounces off the boards tonight, and it came right out, said Claude Julien. Because he had some good speed, he was able to whack that puck in. We kind of needed that break.

It would have beenit probably would have been a real tough loss had we not been able to come out with a win the way we had played this afternoon. He found a way to get us back into it.

The fortuitous bounce of the puck is exactly what Lucic and the Bruins both needed, but it was hard-earned after the Bs power forward had dominated play heading into the final stretch.

When he plays like that hes obviously tough to defend, hes so big, and when theres a team that plays on man-on-man like that its tough for that defender to stay on himhes so strong, said Patrice Bergeron, who has watched Lucic mature into a bona fide NHL force of nature over the years. I think he made some great plays to get it to the net and just drive and use his speed and his body. He had a great game.

Aside from the team importance, the goal also had some pretty weighty significance for Lucic on an individual level as well. The game-tying strike was Lucics 20th goal of the season, and made him the first NHL player this season to reach both the 20 goal and 100 penalty minute plateaus in the ultimate signal of his strength-and-skill game.

The 20 goals scored also gives him his second straight season of achieving that mark a piece of proof that Lucic is much more than the third line energy player some thought he might be upon entering the league.

Hes also not done yet. After potting 30 goals last season Lucic is again looking to crack the 30-goal barrier again this season and prove that hes one of the best young players in the NHL today.

When you have a season like I did last year, you kind of set a bar for yourself and you want to keep that consistency in your game, admitted Lucic. Im still young so you want to try to get better every year.

Its been great Ive been able to get to that 20-goal mark two straight years. There are 29 games left and hopefully I can get to the 30 mark again.

Hes done it with his production and hes doing it with big game performances when his Bruins team needs him most.

Thats what being a great hockey player is all about.

Lucic continues to show thats exactly what hes growing into with each and every season.

Vatrano out with upper body injury, Beleskey returns tonight vs. Stars

Vatrano out with upper body injury, Beleskey returns tonight vs. Stars

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will be missing one of their regular wingers when they take the ice against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.

Frank Vatrano missed the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena with an upper body injury and is out for tonight’s game. That creates  an opening for Matt Beleskey to draw back in after missing the past couple of games due to the birth of his first child. The sharp-shooting Vatrano was injured at Wednesday’s practice and it sounded like a day-to-day type thing when Bruce Cassidy discussed it following morning skate.

“Frankie yesterday in practice had an upper body issue that will leave him day-to-day,” said Cassidy. “I don’t think it’s serious, but [Vatrano] will miss tonight. We’ll see where he’s at tomorrow.”

It might not be the worst time for Vatrano to reset things as well having gone goal-less in the past 14 games, and been a part of an up-and-down third line that hasn’t produced much offense lately for the Bruins. With that change out there and Tuukka Rask again being tapped for the start against the Stars, here’s the line combos and D-pairings based on morning skate:

Marchand-Bergeron-Backes

Stafford-Krejci-Pastrnak

Beleskey-Spooner-Hayes

Moore-Nash-Acciari

 
Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Liles-K. Miller


Rask

Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

BRIGHTON -- Nobody doubts that 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is going to be a game-changer down the road for the Boston Bruins.

The Boston University sophomore, expected to be in the NHL next season, is the crown jewel of a draft-and-development movement led by general manager Don Sweeney over the last three years. And if McAvoy hits the ground running with the Providence Bruins over the weekend, he may even make his NHL debut with the Bruins sometime in the next 10 days, even though playing in as much as a single game with Boston this season would burn a year off his entry-level contract.

"[The NHL] is still to be determined. It will be contract first and [the AHL] as a good first step for us," said Sweeney after signing McAvoy to an ATO (Amateur Tryout Agreement). "He's made the decision to leave [college] and we're excited about that process. It leaves some options open [for McAvoy], but first and foremost gets him playing and acclimated to pro hockey."

But there's also the reality that a 19-year-old like McAvoy is going to face challenges in pro hockey. Mastering the defenseman position at the NHL level is an extremely complicated process. It's the reason we see a lot more teenage forwards take the league by storm than teenage D-men, who typically need more development time in the AHL to hone their skills at both ends of the rink.

"[The challenge] would be getting him to figure out what works at this level and what doesn't, just like if he were in Providence," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy about the theoretical possibility of McAvoy playing in Boston soon. "We've used seven defensemen here over the last eight weeks and they've done a good job for us, so we'd have to see where he fit in and go from there . . . I've seen him here and there, but I don't know enough about his individual game at this point to know what he would specifically need to do . . .

"[Defense] is a tougher position in the NHL because mistakes are magnified. If you're a forward you've got another layer of defense to support you, so you can get away with some of that stuff. I think that's why you see generally that most of the rookies that age in the NHL are forwards."

Torey Krug signed with the Bruins out of college five years ago and had a one-game cameo with them before spending the entire next season in Providence. Krug says now that, looking back, he knows he wasn't ready to play in the NHL coming out of school and needed a season to sort things out defensively against bigger, stronger, smarter and faster opponents.

"The speed itself wasn't much of an issue, but if you fall asleep even for a second it's going to turn into a scoring chance for the other team," Krug said of the adjustment from college hockey to the NHL. "These games are not easy to play in, even for veterans in the league . . .

"I thought offensively I was ready [right away], but defensively I had a lot to learn. It's a tough league to play in. Offensively it was fun, but defensively I had my share of hiccups realizing I had to go down to Providence to work on some things."

McAvoy isn't expected to follow Krug's path. He'll get development opportunities at the AHL level at the end of this season just like fellow young D-man Brandon Carlo, who used last spring's AHL experience to vault directly into the NHL this season as a 19-year-old playing top-four minutes right from opening night.

It's also the track taken by Zach Werenski last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets. An AHL playoff run fully prepped him for his breakout season as the league's best rookie defenseman.

"It's a long time ago, but I used that [ATO] myself as a benefit and I've always been an advocate of it, and I think Robbie O'Gara, Danton Heinen and Carlo all [did it]," said Sweeney. "All the players that have been able to come on and play at a very high level against men, generally in a playoff stretch drive or the playoffs themselves, it's a unique [experience].

"When you first turn pro, you're introduced to it at a really high level and you have to adjust to it on the fly. It's about structure and understanding the voices you're hearing. And reading and reacting at the pro level are all very important [skills]. [I think] it's a great on-the-job training exercise and right now Brandon is the best example of it. He's been able to jump into our lineup this year, and that's a testament to him and also the work he did last year."

So the Bruins should take their time with McAvoy, though also allow that he could be a dominant exception to the rule and become a force right out of the chute. It certainly appears Sweeney is going to leave that door ajar,  to make sure the Bruins don't miss out on anything with a young defenseman who's already drawn comparisons to Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty.