Lucic has something to prove in postseason

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Lucic has something to prove in postseason

Milan Lucic is hoping the last piece of his playoff experience this season mirrors that of last years, bathed in Stanley Cup glory. Lugging the Cup around his home city of Vancouver felt pretty good for the Bs power forward.

But his own personal playoff experience isnt something he wants to repeat. Thats because Lucic had a tough time getting the engine going last year at the end of the regular season, and that carried over into a tough start to his postseason.

Normally a big-game player, Lucic ended the season with a 10-game goal-scoring drought and smashed his toe early in the playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. That slowed down his skating speed considerably and ate into his confidence level, and No. 17 looked uncharacteristically lost while getting just a pair of assists and a zero plusminus rating in the seven-game series win over the Habs.

"It wasnt that disappointing because we still won the Cup," Lucic said. "Obviously I was good enough to help us still win. It goes to show that the only thing matters is winning and losing. I feel like Ive become a big part of the team, so you take it upon yourself as a point of pride to step up your game and bring what you bring best to the table."

That wasnt a very good time for the Bs prototypical power forward.

You definitely learn a lot from playoff experiences and take that with you to make yourself a better player. I think I definitely finished off the season a lot better than I did last year, said Lucic. I think my skating is definitely better. I played a little bit more of a physical aspect to my game this year than last year.

I remember last year I struggled the final 10 games of the regular season and then struggled the first 10 games of the playoffs. There were some confidence issues and stuff going into last years playoffs. This year I feel much better about myself and my game. Im confident I can help my team be successful.

In all Lucic managed just nine points (3 goals and 6 assists) in 18 games during the first three rounds against the Canadiens, Flyers and Lightning last season. But he did manage to find his footing in the Cup Finals. Lucic had a pair of goals in the seven-game series win over the Canucks, and his pounding physical presence knocked defenseman Dan Hamhuis out of the series early in the proceedings.

Bs coach Claude Julien doesnt see the same kind of thing repeating itself this time around. Lucic had arguably his most consistent season as an NHL player and finished with six points in the Bs final six games while getting ready for another long, bountiful run through the Eastern Conference.

Growth and experience, maturity . . . all of those things go hand-in-hand. The last couple of months hes skated as well as Ive ever seen him skate, said Julien. Thats been part of his game. Hes been able to carry the puck rather than look for a center or his other linemates to carry it up the ice. His ability to carry it up the ice with speed and cut into the net has created a lot.

Thats what Looch is all about. His forecheck, his physical presence, his strength. And hes one of those guys thats incredibly hard to stop once hes determined to go to the net.

One scary note for opponents: Lucic says he has something to prove to himself when it comes to the postseason. That means bone-rattling hits and strong plays around the net should be on the menu for Lucic and his Bruins teammates. Success usually follows that recipe.

On a personal note I feel like I have something to prove this year after what happened to me in the playoffs last year, said Lucic. But I cant be disappointed in last year because we won. But I want to do everything I can to help the team win.

Lucic with something to prove is a frightening thing indeed.

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.

Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.

“I’m excited to be back out there,” Bradley said. “I can’t wait for the game to start.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.

“I wanted to come back four weeks ago,” Bradley said. “But I have to do what’s smartest. Those (medical) guys know better than me. It was tough listening to them. But we came to a compromise I guess you could say and I can play tonight. I’m happy with that decision.”

Bradley said the training staff wanted him to get more practices playing at the level he’s accustomed to, prior to returning to action.

But with the Celtics’ schedule, practice time would be few and far between so limiting his minutes initially is indeed a compromise of sorts.

Although rookie Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.

“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”

As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.

“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”

Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.