Bruins

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

Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

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Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

BRIGHTON -- Tuukka Rask is quickly making his way through the concussion protocol and may return to action this weekend.

The Bruins netminder skated with the other injured players ahead of Monday’s main team practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and is on track to rejoin the team at regular practice on Tuesday barring any setbacks in his concussion recovery. That would leave Rask with just a couple of games missed after getting trucked by Anders Bjork at practice last week, and it would give the Bruins back their No. 1 goaltender after Anton Khudobin let in five goals vs. the Sabres on Thursday night.

“He’s in the protocol and progressing well,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’ll probably join us [on Tuesday] for the next step if there are no ill effects from today. That’s a positive. If there are no setbacks, I think Saturday is a more realistic [timetable for a return].”

The hope would be that Rask could start elevating his game when he does return, and play better than the goalie that’s posted the 1-3-0 record, 3.30 goals against average and .882 save percentage thus far this season. But first things first with the recovery to his first career concussion as an NHL goalie, and the set of hurdles that must be passed before Rask is again allowed to jump back into game action as early as this weekend.

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from Bruins practice with Rask, David Krejci and Noel Acciari all skating prior to practice, Patrice Bergeron staying off ice with a maintenance day and Kevan Miller skating in main practice with a maroon, no-contact jersey:

Marchand-Schaller-Bjork
DeBrusk-Backes-Pastrnak
Agostino-Nash-White
Beleskey-Kuraly-Vatrano

Chara-McAvoy
Krug-Carlo
Miller-Postma

Khudobin

Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

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Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

BRIGHTON -- Injuries, and some really tough losses, have put a bit of a damper on the start to the Bruins season. But there've also been a couple of unquestioned bright spots.

And one of them is Tim Schaller, who's been a strong, consistent performer in the first couple of weeks of the season. The New Hampshire native -- and lifelong Bruins fan -- was penciled in as a fourth-line winger throughout most of training camp, but he’s played everywhere as injuries have ravaged the B's roster.

The high point was probably centering Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak (and notching an assist) in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Sabres, and filling in for a late-scratched David Krejci with a very different set of skills. Certainly he’s been a standout for the Bruins with his physicality, including stepping up and fighting man mountain Erik Gudbranson after Gudbranson's nasty boarding hit on Frank Vatrano last week, and he’s also kicked in a couple of goals and three points in seven games thus far this season.

“It’s a reactionary thing, and that’s just in a person,” said Bruce Cassidy of fighting Gudbranson. “It’s a character thing because you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. Good for Timmy. That earns a lot of street cred not only in your own locker room, but the other teams notice it. too.

"We know with the goals that he can obviously chip in [offensively] and he’s doing a great job for what we’re asking him to do. He’s probably going to take ownership if he’s out there with some young guys on a line, and if he can be a leader and get that line playing the right way every night that is very valuable to us.”

Schaller’s game to this point is a continuation of what he showed in his first season with the Bruins last year, when the 26-year-old posted 7 goals and 14 points in 59 games while becoming a staple in Boston’s bottom-6 group. He’s once again shown pretty good straight-ahead speed for a big man, and a willingness to take his 6-foot-2, 219-pound frame straight to the net.

“I’ve been moving well and I’ve got the two goals, so personally I’m happy [with my game],” said Schaller. “Hopefully others can feed off what I’m trying to do out there, and we get a more well-balanced game [as a team]. I had a good season last year, and what was really good was that I knew that I had more to give. That’s what I’m trying to do this season.

“I can obviously produce more. I had a good start to last season and then I kind of fell off a little bit. So hopefully I can be a little more consistent for this entire year.”

That would be a very good thing for a Bruins team that can use him in a bottom-6 energy role when its roster is healthy, and will fully utilize his versatility in times of injuries and adversity.