Lucic shapes up his point against Rangers

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Lucic shapes up his point against Rangers

The beaming, wide, knowing grin on Milan Lucics face said it all on Saturday night. It was the only fitting reaction after he potted the Bruins first goal of the season with a little less than six minutes to go in the first period.

It lit a raging fire of emotion under the posteriors his Bs teammates and lifted them up amid what had been a scoreless first which Boston largely dominated while out-shooting the Rangers by a 14-7 margin. It also resoundingly answered all of the critics that reasoned the 24-year-old Bruins power forward was woefully out of shape while idling in Boston during the four-month lockout.

The doubters expected the worst out of Lucic to start the season, and the doubters got it wrong.

Instead the wide mark of happiness on Lucics visage was about the first thought that popped into his head after snapping home the rebound: his newborn eight pound, one ounce baby girl Valentina Lucic born just two days prior after 18 hours of labor.

Thats what was really important amid so much sound and fury with the NHL season cranking up this week.

It was a whirlwind last week for Lucic with the start of a week-long training, the birth of his first child and Saturday nights 3-1 win over the New York Rangers in impressive fashion. So youll forgive No. 17 if he didnt have enough energy or care for a round of I told you so sound bytes to everyone that doubted him after Boston's big win.

It is what it is. I dont want to make too big of a deal about it. I feel good; Im just going to go out there and play my game, said Lucic. You guys get to watch from upstairs, and you guys can make your own judgments and opinions about it.

Whether it was answering the naysayers or simply missing the game of hockey while the NHL was away for the last four months, Lucic was playing with the snarling edge that makes him one of the league's most fearsome forces. He actually could have had a goal even earlier in the period when Henrik Lundqvist kicked the rebound of a Nathan Horton shot toward the post.

But Lucic instead chose to crash the straight down the middle of the ice and wasnt in position to slam home the loose puck.

Instead Lucic took a mental note for later in the period, and crashed the far post the second time around. That's where the rebound of a David Krejci shot bounced right onto his stick for the put-back score, and the Bruins were off and running while following Lucic's lead.

The goal seemingly announced that Lucic wouldnt be suffering from the slow start to the hockey season many predicted. It also made it difficult to discern which players had or hadnt played in Europe during the lockout as everybody looked pretty close to equal in effort, output and energy levels through 60 minutes.

I give credit to the guys that went over to Europe and played were playing at a high level and doing a good job, but I also give credit to the guys who didnt, said Andrew Ference. I think a lot of guys out there tonight didnt look out of place and I thought the game was good, professional. The guys were acting like professionals even during the frustrating time of not playing.

Lucic was a professional force around the net with his big body on rebounds, he led the team with four registered hits that served notice to the Rangers he meant business for the evening and he ended up cutting his night short early after a late dust-up with Mike Rupp and Ryan McDonagh. The altercation earned him a 10-minute misconduct late in the third period when Lucic didn't leave the area once the refs told him it was time to head back to the bench.

Claude Julien loved what he saw out of Lucic after he was among many players that struggled badly in Tuesday nights scrimmage against Providence.

Lucic was very good. The microscope was on him for a long time because he didnt play in Europe and people thought that maybe he wasnt in the best of shape, said Julien. There were a lot of question marks on him, but I thought he played a solid game.

Not only did he score that goal from driving the net, but physically and everything else he was good. I dont really have any complaints about anyone on our team tonight, because I thought from top to bottom we were a pretty good hockey club.

While key forwards like Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand also didnt play in Europe during the 113 days of the NHL lockout, it was Lucic alone that bore the brunt of unfair criticism that he hadnt worked hard enough to prepare for a shortened campaign. It was always true that he hadnt been on the ice much in November or December and because of that he wasnt in game shape.

But anybody with eyes could also see Lucic hadnt gained any bad weight or suddenly fallen into terrible shape that was going to hamper his ability to at least work himself back into game shape" over the first few weeks.

Instead people ran with the narrative and tweeted out pictures of Lucic sucking wind and down on one knee when the Bruins players first got together at Boston University prior to organized training camp. That raised questions and, to be truthful, aggravated some of Lucics teammates.

Looch has been in shape this whole time, and it was great for him to go out and score proved that he hasnt missed a beat. He was physical out there as well, said Johnny Boychuk. Thats the way he wants to play and thats the way hes going to play. For him to go out and get that goal to show that hes not slacking really means a lot to everybody.

The challenge now for Lucic is to tap into that same motivational force time and time again this season once the adrenaline fades away, and the grind of the 48-game sprint begins to weight him down.

Lucic goes from tough-to-play-against to impossible-to-stop beast when hes got something to prove, and that was definitely the case while passing his personal fitness test against the Rangers.

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold. 

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

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Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which David Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.