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

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.

Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

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Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN – Newest Bruins forward David Backes has heard the trepidation from Bruins fans about the five-year term of his contract, and he’s probably also caught wind of St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong stating publicly that contract length was an area he was uncomfortable getting to on a theoretical extension with his outbound.

The prevailing wisdom is that the decade of rugged, physical play from the 32-year-old in St. Louis will cause him to start slowing down sooner rather than later, and the last couple of seasons won’t be as high quality as the first couple in Boston.

So what does the actual player think about any questions surrounding his five year, $30 million contract?

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes confidently said that concerns about his age, or him slowing down demonstrably in the last few years of his new contract, are “a bunch of malarkey” to borrow a favorite phrase from Vice President Joe Biden.

“I’m 32, not 52. Time will tell, but I feel really good and I take care of my body. I lay it all on the line, but when I’m not at the rink I’m resting and recovering for the next time I have to pour it all into a game,” said Backes, who logged 727 hard-hitting games all with the St. Louis Blues organization over the last 10 seasons. “Time will be the judge, but I feel like [after] five years I’ll even have a couple more [seasons] after that.

“I don’t think this is going to be end. That’s my plan. I’m still going to get better over the next five years, and hopefully have a couple of opportunities to hoist that big trophy I’ve been chasing around for the last 10 years.”

One area of concern from last season: the 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games for the Blues were Backes’ lowest totals over a full season since his first few years in the league. It might be the first signs of decline in a player that’s logged some heavy miles, or it could be a simple down season for a player that’s always focused on setting the physical tone, and defense, just as much as his offensive output at the other end of the ice.

As Backes himself said, “time will be judge” of just how well the five year contract turns out for a natural leader that will undoubtedly give the Bruins a boost as a hard-nosed, top-6 forward as he moves into the Boston phase of his NHL career.

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

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Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.

*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.

*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.

*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.

*Well, would you look at this? The Nashville Predators are providing salary cap and contract info on their own team website. What a concept!

*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.

*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.

*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs