Lucic brings the power for the Bruins

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Lucic brings the power for the Bruins

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Milan Lucic is Bostons game-breaker.

Its become a little trendy to knock the Bruins in recent weeks as not quite elite or just a little shy of Stanley Cup worthy despite a seven-game winning streak in the heat of the regular season that belies all of that.

The biggest reason given is the lack of game-breaking talent for the Bruins in terms of high-scoring skill forwards. Stanley Cup teams in the recent past have had theirs. Think Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane from the Blackhawks, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk from Red Wings.

While the Bruins sit near the top of goal-producing teams in the NHL, critics believe they dont have enough game-breaking forwards to score goals when defenses tighten up and theres less free ice to maneuver through.

The problem with this theory about the Bruins: Lucic keeps punching power-forward-sized holes in it.

When you mention all of those teams, youre talking about impact forwards, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said when posed the game-breaking question in an interview with CSNNE.com that will appear in the first web episode of the "Great American Hockey Show."

We believe we have impact players at other positions in the form of an impact defenseman in Zdeno Chara and an impact goaltender in Tim Thomas. Then weve also got some young forwards that we believe are becoming impact players.

First on that list of up-and-coming forwards is No. 17 in your programs.

Lucic engineered a textbook playoff-style goal when he helped create havoc in front of the net by fighting with the puck through the Tampa Bay defense with big defenseman Pavel Kubina ridingon his back, and then flipped a bad-angle shot high into the net in the games final four minutes to give Boston a 2-1 win over the Lightning.

I was just trying to look for the loose puck because there was enough guys in front of the net, said Lucic, recounting the score in a game that gave Boston seven wins in a row and sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference. I knew there was no real reason for me to get in there but just kind of wait around, see if something popped out and it did and everyone was on the ice including their goalie so I just shot it high and hard and it went in."

The game-winning score was Lucics second in the last four games, and served as the epitome of a postseason-level score with bodies flying in front of the net six if you count spreadeagled Tampa goaltender Mike Smith and determination standing as the only thing between winning and losing.

It was Lucics 28th goal of the season, and another piece of evidence in a building case that he is Bostons game-breaking forward.

Throw in his ill-timed but decisive beatdown of a reticent Eric Brewer in the second period, and you have a pretty good picture of how difficult it will be to contain Lucic once the real games start in late April.

Thats a rare thing when you have a guy thats so physical and so tough, but also has the finishing touch and can put the puck in the net, said Gregory Campbell. You dont often see nowadays the power forward prototype that we saw a lot in the 1990s and even further back. But those guys are valuable.

He plays a big role for us. Hes good defensively as well, so the other team has to respect his game and has to respect his skill. He plays hard, and thats somebody that you need in the playoffs: somebody that plays hard and somebody that can score.

Lucic is on a pace to score 35-plus goals this season, and he has flashed a devastating wrist shot thats made him more intimidating to opponents with his stick than with his fists. His 20 points (12 goals, 8 assists) in the last 20 games are a testament to that. He has helped make his line -- with linemates David Krejci and Nathan Horton -- downright dangerous for the last two weeks.

We want to score, and we're wanting to have the puck, said Horton with poetic simplicity. I think when we dont have it, well forecheck to get it back, and I think thats why things are working.

Lucic has never had more than 17 goals in a season. Most thought he might turn into a nice 20-goal scorer capable of being a tough guy and a top-six forward, but Lucic is in the middle of establishing himself as something much different.

The big left wing set for himself a goal of being the best player on the ice as often as possible this season, and hes following through with punishing shifts, brutal physicality thats really shown up of late and an elite goal-scoring touch the Bs desperately needed.

Hes got a great attitude. He wants to be a big guy on our team, and hes showing it, said Mark Recchi. Hes learning that when he comes to compete every night and does things the right way, then things happen for him. When he plays physical goals fall right into place, and when he doesnt then they dont. They go hand-in-hand.

Hes a talented enough player that when he gets the room to operate, then hes going to bury it.

Lucic has taken the next step up this season to one of the NHLs next superstars in his hybrid power forward role, and that should make all the difference in the world once the cold, merciless playoff dance begins.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Both Millers missing from Bruins practice, but trending toward return

Both Millers missing from Bruins practice, but trending toward return

BRIGHTON, Mass – While both Kevan Miller and Colin Miller were missing from Bruins practice on Saturday morning, both injured Bruins defensemen could be rejoining the team soon.

Colin Miller skated on his own prior to Saturday’s team practice at Warrior Ice Arena for the second or third time since suffering a lower body injury in the win over the St. Louis Blues. Claude Julien said his presence on the ice was proof that the puck-moving defenseman is “definitely on the mend”, and could be nearing a return to practice soon with Sunday marking the sixth straight game that he’ll have missed.

Kevan Miller is out with a concussion suffered last weekend in the win over the Philadelphia Flyers, and the B’s current three-game losing streak has coincided with his absence from the lineup.

Julien said Miller has actually been away from the team for the last couple of days while dealing with a virus, and that his recovery from the concussion symptoms was good prior to being knocked down by the illness.

“Kevan was actually feeling really well and then he got hit by a virus that’s kept him in bed for the last two days,” said Julien. “It’s nothing to do with his original injury. There was a possibility he could have been ready very soon, but that’s set him back a bit.”

Both are obviously out for Sunday’s matinee against the Penguins, but a return to practice at some point next week seems like a good bet for both players. Here are the line combos and defense pairings from Saturday’s practice with the Bruins focusing on getting a good result in Pittsburgh with the hockey club on a “mom’s trip” with 22 of the players’ mothers traveling with the team to and from the game:

Marchand-Bergeron-Vatrano

Schaller-Krejci-Pastrnak

Spooner-Nash-Backes/Hayes

Blidh/Beleskey-Moore-Czarnik

 

Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Morrow-Liles

 

Rask

McIntyre

Amid signs his job might be in trouble, Julien says: 'I'm not quitting on this team'

Amid signs his job might be in trouble, Julien says: 'I'm not quitting on this team'

BRIGHTON, Mass – Roughly 12 hours after embattled Bruins coach Claude Julien bristled at a question about his job security and labeled it “shock journalism” in the heat of the moment after a tight loss to the Blackhawks, the B’s bench boss delivered a classy, heartfelt response to the same question.

Julien was asked about it in French by a reporter from the Montreal Gazette, but answered in English because of the “loyalty he feels to the people in Boston.”

In essence, Julien basically said he should be relieved of his duties if he’s deemed to be behind what ails the Black and Gold, but he’s going to keep working to fix things until that day comes.

It was exactly the kind of response you would expect from a coach who's taken the B’s to the mountaintop in his 10 years running the team and will always be respected and loved in Boston long after his coaching days are done.

“How do I deal with all of the rumors and all that is going on? I didn’t feel like [Friday night] was the appropriate time for me to answer that after a game where you’re emotions are pretty high. I wasn’t getting into that, but to be honest with you my job is to coach the hockey club,” said Julien. “Am I worried about my job? No, I’m not. Because it’s not my job to worry about it. My job is to fix things, and my job is to coach this team and do everything I can. If I become one of the reasons that we’re not doing well, then management has to make that decision.

“It’s not my decision to make. I’m not quitting on this team. I’m not quitting on anybody. I’m not quitting on management. I’m ready and willing to go through the hard times, and I said that at the end of last year. If it’s deemed my fault, then I shouldn’t be here, and that’s all I can say.”

While the Bruins roster is clearly less than perfect and has a larger dose of youthful players than in years past, Julien also freely admitted that they should be held to a higher standard after proving many nights that they should be a playoff team. That’s the mandate from Bruins ownership and that’s the challenge that Julien has willingly accepted.

It’s also the challenge that’s falling a bit short now as they’ve lost three crushing games in a row and have fallen behind the Ottawa Senators in the playoff standings, with Toronto also right behind them holding six games in hand.

“If we’re going with what we said we were going with and there’s going to be some growing pains along the way, so be it,” said Julien. “I think we put ourselves in a position earlier in the year where we could all of a sudden believe that we’re a playoff team...absolutely. I still think we’re a playoff team. Whether we can do it or not we’ll find out at the end of the year, but my job is to do everything I can to get us into the playoffs and that’s what I’m going to do.

“As far as the rumors are concerned, they’re out there and I know that. But I don’t worry about it because worrying is wasting a lot of my time. And my time is spent trying to fix things here.”

Julien and the Bruins are headed to Pittsburgh for a Sunday matinee against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and will have two games against the red-hot Pens headed into an All-Star break weekend that must feel like a well-earned oasis for Julien at this point in the season.