Bruins

Lucic admits 'took me too long to get over' playoff criticism

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Lucic admits 'took me too long to get over' playoff criticism

BOSTON – Milan Lucic has been saying for days, weeks and at least a year now that he wants to remain a member of the Boston Bruins. 

“My plan is to hopefully be here for my whole career,” said Lucic. “But obviously that has to come from both sides meeting in the middle.”

The subject comes up more often now because the 27-year-old is entering the last year of a contract with the B’s that’s paying him $6 million per season, and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. There have been no negotiations between Lucic’s camp and the Bruins about a contract extension, and this summer would be the logical time to discuss a deal if there is one in the works for the hulking left winger. 

“It’s a decision that will require some thought. He’s a player that’s really helped us over the years; he’s a signature-type player,” said Chiarelli, of Lucic. “Certainly, and I lump him in with a bunch of guys that their levels of performance weren’t up to snuff this year. So, he’s a big strong player that we rely on and he’s paid a good salary now, and if we extend him he’ll be paid a good salary going forward. 

“So it’s a difficult decision because he’s a player that creates space by his size and his style of play and you’d want more production in general, from not just him but from other players. He falls in that category.”

But Lucic also knows he’s coming off a bit of a down season, himself, and was perhaps a little distracted by his own status. The 18 goals and 44 points are the lowest totals for Lucic in a full season since his injury-ravaged season in 2009-10, and the prototypical B’s power forward battled through all manner of distractions and challenges this season. 

He was coming off wrist surgery in the summertime, but Lucic said he also coming off some very bruised feelings after enduring plenty of national vitriol for his behavior in last year’s playoffs. Lucic became a dastardly villain in the eyes of the national hockey media after a couple of spearing incidents, and a much-publicized threat directed at Habs grinding forward Dale Weise in the playoff handshake line. 

All of that served to take some of the bite out of his game to start this season, and was painfully obvious when Lucic wasn’t the same fearless, intimidating force he’d been in year’s past.  

“I came back after three months from an injury that usually takes six months to heal, but in my mind that’s not a good enough excuse,” said Lucic. “As far as a new contract goes, you can make the case I still have things to prove in order to earn that. Whether I get an extension this summer or not, I’m going to work as hard as I can to honor that last year on my contract. I need to do what I can with this time off to find my [game] again. I think one thing I learned is that I need to be more focused on myself, and what I can bring to this team rather than relying too much on other people.

“At the start [of this season] I was overly conscious about [playing with an edge] because there was a lot being said about me with how last year ended. It was hard on me at the start. I shouldn’t have let it be as hard on me as it was. I was mad. I was angry. I was bitter that we lost…everything just piled up into one big thing, and it took me too long to get over it. Maybe that’s why I was a little too conscious of it, and maybe that’s something I have to be a little bit better at when I come back next season. I need to find that physicality, that presence and that force that I’m known to bring. I need to find that again this summer. When I talk about healing mentally, I think that’s the biggest area where I need it.” 

There is little question this season was the “tamest” of Lucic’s NHL career. 

His fight numbers were way down and his hitting game was erratic at best, and No. 17 wasn’t nearly the consistent, looming physical presence he’d been in year’s past. It’s one of the biggest reasons the Bruins were a bit softer in all zones this season, and easier to play against at just about every turn while missing the playoffs for the first time in Lucic’s career. 

It seems funny to think that a 6-foot-3, 230-pound wrecking ball of a forward could be impacted so deeply by criticism and judgments cast by people other than the ones that sign his paycheck. But Lucic showed one thing that’s true for everybody in the NHL: underneath the pads and the helmets, there’s the heartbeat of a human being that doesn’t want to be viewed as the bad guy from all corners.

Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

With the return of John Moore to good health and a general lack of tight focus to the team recently, the confluence of events pushed the Bruins to make a move ahead of a four-game road trip next week.

The Bruins announced that they have waived veteran defenseman Steve Kampfer at noontime on Sunday for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL. It was clear the B’s were going to opt for the 31-year-old Kampfer rather than Connor Clifton, who just a couple of weeks ago passed the 60 NHL games played barrier that would also require waivers for him to be sent down to the AHL.

There’s a far greater chance that a team would put a claim in on the 24-year-old Clifton, who has two goals and a plus-5 rating in 24 games for the Black and Gold this season.

The final straw for Kampfer was the healthy return of Moore, who missed the first 28 games of the season coming back from shoulder surgery. But Moore has played in back-to-back games for the Bruins and collected an assist in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to the Avalanche while showing that he’s all the way back from an injury suffered during last spring’s playoff run.

Kampfer has played in just four games for the Bruins this season as their seventh defenseman after putting up three goals and six points in 35 games as their spare D-man last season. While there’s a chance that a team could put a claim in on Kampfer, the likelihood given his age and experience level is that he’ll head to Providence to stay sharp for when another round of injuries inevitably hit the Bruins on the back end.

There’s also no question that a player being put on waivers that’s been with the Bruins for the last couple of seasons might be enough to also shake the complacency out of a B’s group that’s been sleepwalking against opponents over the last couple of weeks. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, of course, but they have needed a handful of third period comebacks after making slow starts the norm as of late.

There’s also the chance that the Bruins need the cap savings associated with Kampfer’s $800,000 cap hit after Moore’s $2.75 million cap figure was added back onto Boston’s books once he got healthy earlier this week.

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Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

BOSTON – It was only a matter of time before the Bruins got burned for playing like they could flick on a third period switch and beat everybody across the NHL.

After a number of third period comebacks and salvaged points over the last couple of weeks, the Bruins couldn’t pull the same trick against the Colorado Avalanche in a 4-1 loss at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was the first regulation loss on home ice for the Bruins this season at TD Garden and it was exactly what Boston deserved after managing just nine shots on net in the first two periods while making some simple mistakes that led to goals against at inopportune times.

“For us, [it was a] lack of urgency. We talked about it the other night, again tonight, some of that is definitely in our game early on. If we’re on our toes, I think we’re cleaner. I’m not going to say that we’re not going to execute from time to time, but it’s been an issue for us I think. Some of the unforced errors — I just look at the play, Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk] takes a hit, [Danton] Heinen goes back with the puck. If we’re playing the right way, we’re in and out of our end. We’re gone,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We go back with it and all of a sudden [it’s in the net]. We win a faceoff to start a period and we ice it instead of making a play. Now we’re in our end and there’s just a lot of details that are working us against us now. We’ve just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities in those situations, and live with the result.

“[It] doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I think we’re leaving plays on the table because our lack of urgency or understanding that teams are coming after us. They’re good teams. We got away with it for a while here, good for us, right? It’s a results-oriented business. But against the better teams, I think at some point, they will close out games. [The loss to the Avs] was a great example of that.”

The Heinen play really was the killer as it came midway through the second period, led to the Bruins running around in their own end and then ended with Ian Cole rocketing a slap shot past Jaroslav Halak from the top of the face-off circle. Then Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk botched defensive coverage in transition at the end of the second period, and that led to Andre Burakovsky scoring the insurance goal right at the end of the period.

At that point, it was over despite Boston outshooting Colorado by a 12-6 margin in the third period, and the Bruins have to hope that it was a lesson learned at this point. It may take a few games for the Bruins to snap out of some of their current bad habits, but there’s also that overall malaise that might be an unavoidable part of the team’s commanding 13-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

That being said, Brad Marchand spoke for all of Boston’s team leadership in knowing that the current state of being for the Black and Gold isn’t something that can sustainably bring success.

“It’s a losing game. You can’t continue to go down by a couple of goals, especially to good teams,” said Marchand. “Teams like that know how to win and how to keep a lead. No matter how many times you come back, it’s going to eventually catch up to you. We’ve had that, especially early on [in games]. We tend to be much better when we’re behind. I think then it’s a bit of a wakeup call and we all have to play good in order to come back.

“But we have to play that way from the first shift of the first period. If you want to win, if you want to be a good team and if you want to have a chance in the playoffs, you have to be able to do that all game along. It’s tough sometimes because the season can get long. That’s no excuse. We have to realize the mistakes that we’re making and improve if want to continue to get better. That’s what good teams do.”

It would behoove the Bruins to get things in order quickly with a slate of important games over the next week including a mid-week tilt with the Washington Capitals, and a pair of divisional games against Tampa Bay and Florida later on in the week. But there really isn’t any worry coming from the B’s about anybody distantly trailing them in the standings right now while 8-1-1 in their last 10 games overall.

Instead it’s about the Bruins themselves becoming the best hockey team that they can be and getting back into a groove where they are paying attention to details and doing the little things that lead to winning hockey.  

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