Lucic shaping up for start of season

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Lucic shaping up for start of season

BOSTON -- Milan Lucic is quick to admit he isnt in the same kind of game shape as teammates who played in Europe for the last four months.

We can practice as much as we want and we can play shinny as much as we want, but there are aspects of the game that arent there: the stopping and starting, the little details and the battling in the corner, Lucic said Monday. For guys like me, hopefully it wont take that much time and we can shake the rust off right away.

For our team, a lot of guys were active in Europe and were playing, but its definitely going to be sloppy hockey to start things off. Thats the best way for me to put it.

So its not surprising the Bruins' power forward was lagging slightly behind, and breathing with a little more urgency, during a fast-paced Monday morning informal skate at BUs Agganis Arena that included Tyler Seguin, Shawn Thornton, Brad Marchand, Gregory Campbell, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask, among others.

But Lucic also was absent quite a bit during the months of November and December while some of his Boston-based teammates continued to grind through joyless skates waiting for the NHL lockout to be over.

He explained that absence when asked about it a month ago.

It definitely was difficult to stay motivated when the NHL cancelled the entire month of November, said Lucic to CSNNE.com. It was really hard. It came to a point where I decided to step back from the ice a bit because I felt like I was hurting myself rather than helping myself.

It was more into getting healthy in all my off-ice stuff.

There is clearly rust that needs to be shaken off as the players prepare for NHL training camp to open next weekend. At points on Monday Lucic trailed his teammates on rushes up the ice, and didnt have the quick skating feet hell need during the season. But its a far cry from the cautionary tale of Blues forward Keith Tkachuk during the last lockout: He gained so much weight during the 2004-05 cancelled season that it took weeks before was allowed on the ice after a rigorous dry-land exercise program. Even after he returned, Tkachuk had one of his worst seasons with 15 goals, 36 points and a minus-15 rating in 41 games.

Its pretty clear that isnt the case here. Lucic scored a pair of goals during a spirited, loose game that ended practice and showed encouraging flashes of the jump hes known for.

After the skate was over, Lucic brushed off whispers his conditioning isnt up to par with the regular season approaching.

He's at the same 230-pound playing weight that he ended last season, and will use the week of training camp to get himself.

In Lucics mind hes always been in good condition, but theres no way to ever replicate game shape. The quick stops and starts, the battles in the corner, the maximum energy eked out of prolonged shifts are activities that cant be experienced in glorified games of non-contact shinny.

Youre never really in game shape until youre playing in games, said Lucic. I try to keep myself in shape, but we still have to weeks to get into game shape. Ive never had a problem with my conditioning at any level, so Ill be ready. Ive stayed the same weight. Its been hard, but Ive stayed the same.

The bottom line is this: The Bruins need the Lucic that has averaged 28 goals and 128 PIMs over the last two seasons, and whose three-year, 18 million contract kicks in next year. It may take a few weeks or a month for Lucic -- a notorious slow starter during training camps -- to get the engine going, but he certainly wont be alone in that category living in the unique circumstances following the NHL lockout.

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

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Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard and fighting that hard to see pucks and find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

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Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.

Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.

“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”

It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston. 

The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.

“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”

A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.