By Danny Picard
BOSTON -- A goal certainly takes the pressure off a player's return from injury.
In the case of Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart and forward Milan Lucic, each put a puck into the net within the first 10 minutes of Monday afternoon's game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the TD Garden.
However, Stuart's was the only one that counted.
The B's defenseman played in his first game since Dec. 7 after missing more than month because of a broken right hand. His slap shot from the left point, eight minutes into the first period, got through a Michael Ryder screen and past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, into the top-left corner of the net.
Lucic had missed the previous three games because of an undisclosed injury, and beat Ward with a hard snap shot from the high slot, less than minutes after Stuart gave the Bruins an early 1-0 lead.
The goal horn sounded, and Lucic celebrated his first goal since Dec. 16.
Problem was, the officials had called a delayed penalty on the Bruins, and for some reason didn't blow the whistle until after Lucic had put the puck in the net.
"I have to build off it," said a smiling Lucic. "It was a little disheartening. A good, quick shot for myself, and I thought, 'Oh, here we go, get it going again.' But unfortunately it was called back."
Lucic has now gone 12 games without a goal.
For Stuart, Saturday's blast from the point was his first goal of the season. Both made their returns to the lineup, but Stuart's injury was much more severe than Lucic's.
"It felt good," said Stuart. "You're a little nervous beforehand, just because you don't really know what to expect. But I was fortunate enough to get that goal early, and it kind of helped me relax, I think."
Stuart finished Boston's 7-0 win as a plus-3 in 16:04 of ice time. His coaches and teammates didn't see a player who missed over a month with a hand injury.
"It was good, I thought, for his first game back," said coach Claude Julien. "We talked, before the game, that he only had one real, full practice with the team. He had been out for five, six weeks, and when you come back and play a pretty solid game like he did, you've got to be pleased.
"It was nice to see him get that goal," added Julien. "The first chance he got at shooting the puck, he scored. The rest of it, he kept his game pretty simple. And when he kept it simple, he moved the puck well. I thought he was good."
"He was very good, especially for being out for a while," said goaltender Tim Thomas. "He didn't have the shakiness that sometimes can happen when you haven't played in a while. He was really calm with the puck, and made good plays, and he was very strong. A lot of times, when you come back from injury, too, it seems like you're a step behind, and was definitely not that. He stepped right in and played with mid-season form."
So much so, that Stuart nearly got in a fight with Hurricanes forward Troy Bodie in the final minutes of the game. But just before the gloves came off, fellow defenseman Adam McQuaid sprinted over and dropped the gloves with Bodie himself.
By rule, no player can fight while wearing protective equipment on their hands. And Stuart played Saturday's game with a protective brace on his right hand, which he said he plans on wearing for a "couple more weeks."
McQuaid knew that, and didn't want Stuart to re-injure the hand, so he stepped in.
"We all know Stuey's not going to back down, so it was just kind of something I needed to do," said McQuaid. "The brace kind of puts him in a tough spot, so like I said, someone had to jump in there for him."
"I felt bad, because I didn't want to put Adam in that situation," said Stuart. "You kind of forget sometimes, in the heat of the battle, that you can't do it."
Stuart didn't have to drop the gloves. All that mattered, on Saturday, was that he and Lucic were back in that heat of the battle. And it's a pair of returns that's more than welcomed in the Bruins locker room.
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.