|03.09.09 at 11:02 pm ET|
Milan Lucic has heard some of the speculation.
The brawling hulk of a left winger was a destructive, decisive force on the ice through the first half of the season and was sitting atop the NHL leader board in the painful department of official hits. Big Looch certainly set the bruising B’s tone early in the winter when he blasted Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn with such awesome force that he actually shattered the glass above the boards at the Garden.
But a shoulder injury just before the NHL All-Star break knocked Lucic out of the lineup and kept him away from the All-Star weekend festivities up in Montreal. The 20-year-old forward didn’t seem to be himself upon returning from the injury, and was shying away from his signature violent body checks. Looch also wasn’t dropping the gloves and brawling, and he certainly wasn’t huffing and puffing, gathering up a head of skating steam, and crunching opposing skaters like annoying little bugs on a speeding windshield.
Was it the lingering effect of the shoulder injury that made Lucic tentative when it came to doling out his usual diet of punishment and pain to the other hockey team? Was it simply a valley in the intensity department during his second season on the NHL roller coaster — a career point when many young hockey players are still figuring out their game and learning to conserving their energy over a long 82 game schedule.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has stressed on multiple occasions throughout the season just how important Looch’s physicality and willingness to finish off thunderous checks are to Boston’s ultimate hockey fate. Quite simply: when Lucic skates and hits and intimidates, the Bruins are a far, far better hockey team.
“(Looch’s physicality) is something that’s a part of our team identity and when you lose that part it takes away from our game. When you have that in our lineup with the understanding that he’s got to bring that night in and night, it certainly makes us better and tougher to play against,” said Julien. “There have been times when you’ve seen him slip a little bit in that area, and we’ve had to remind a little bit of what it does for the team and his game.
“But everybody seems to have something that they bring to the table that’s really good for the hockey club, and it slips and it needs to brought back to their attention in one way or another,” added Julien.
So what was it that kept slipping Lucic into snooze mode, and prevented him from knocking the living bejesus out of opponents?
Would you believe the Big, Bad Looch simply wasn’t snortingly mad enough to go out onto the ice and start banging bodies? The Incredible Looch was much more Dr. Bruce Banner than Hulk during the stretch of largely invisible performances.
“For a guy like me, I really start to get into the game when (a hit) happens early,” said Lucic. “It’s good to go out and be a presence and be a physical player. Obviously there’s a lull (to the season) and whatnot, but I just wasn’t getting there to make the hits. A lot of people use the expression that I was just ‘sleeping’. Nobody did anything to get me mad, I guess, and I was back on my heels more than I was on my toes.
“It’s good when you get the emotions and competitiveness into it, and I need to take it upon myself to get revved up before every game so I’m ready to get going. There’s no excuse for not being a physical presence if nobody out on the ice is getting me mad.”
That’s something that gives the term “anger management” a whole new spin for Lucic in the violent world of ice hockey.
But have no fear Bruins Nation, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder said the problem is “under control” — and the results seem to agree with his assessment. Lucic is readying for the ice battles before the game begins, and those skaters in unfriendly sweaters have been put on notice that they’re again in Looch’s crosshairs. It’s a development that will continue for the final 15 games of the regular season and into the playoff battles that are sure to follow.
Whether its Shawn Thornton stealing Looch’s favorite stick just before game time or Lucic simply finding the right “flash point” song on his iPod that will fly him into a glove-dropping rage before the game, the brawny winger has finally tapped back into the anger and passion that transformed him into such a vital factor for the B’s out on the frozen sheet.
Lucic leveled a game-high nine hits in the Sunday rematch against the New York Rangers Sean Avery — who famously hit Lucic from behind and sparked a huge brawl in the memorable Dallas Stars game earlier this season — and registered Lucic-like six hit totals against both the Coyotes and Blackhawks upon returning from an “upper body Injury” last week.
It’s clear that Lucic has regained touch with his inner punisher since returning to game action, and the Bruins have been all the better for it. So, feel free to seek out Lucic on the street prior to one of the Black and Gold’s upcoming games this season, and be sure to tell him that it’s okay to get angry.
Bruins fans really like the Incredible Looch when he gets angry.
|03.08.09 at 4:03 pm ET|
The Bruins pulled the trigger on some prudent hockey transactions to address their needs during this past week’s trade deadline, but unfortunately the Causeway Street Warriors weren’t the only Eastern Conference squad to give themselves a helping hand last Wednesday.
New York Rangers forward Sean Avery made an impact in his first game this season as a member of the Blueshirts, and newly acquired forward Nik Antropov potted his first score in a Rangers sweater during a frustrating 4-3 Sunday afternoon B’s loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Former Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris also notched an assist for the new-look Rangers, who appear to have a bit more offensive firepower with their new skaters.
Watching Avery skate around for 60 minutes of hockey and incite Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi into reacting and observing Antropov utilizing his big 6-foot-6 body to create space and opportunities in front of the net brought one big thought to the puck forefront: nearly every Bruins competitor helped themselves at the NHL trade deadline and just made the road that much tougher for the Black and Gold going forward this spring.
The sagging Montreal Canadiens acquired puck-moving defender Mathieu Schneider well before the trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Penguins finally recognized they were missing the grit of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals club, and recruited both Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin into the fold in time for their final stretch run. The sandpaper-scrappy Daniel Carcillo was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers after racking up more than 300 penalty minutes and 13 goals for the Coyotes last season.
The Devils watched Martin Brodeur get healthy enough to come back, and got even deeper along the blueline with Niclas Havelid. Even the Florida Panthers, who seemed to be locked in a Hamlet-like struggle to decide whether they were a legitimate playoff contender, scooped up defenseman Steve Eminger for their first serious playoff drive.
In other words, nearly everyone in the East potentially improved themselves right along with the Big, Bad B’s and it’s unclear how things will eventually shake out with the roster additions up and down the standings.
As has been the case in several of the B’s most recent losses, the Bruins found themselves scrambling madly in the last few moments of the game to tie up the Rangers and lock another point into the seasonal account. But the Bruins just couldn’t get that last push to force the game into overtime, and vulture a lonely point.
That’s a quality that countless veteran NHL hockey teams have an uncanny knack for in a close game where they find themselves down in the waning moments. Somehow, some way a team will simply shove their way into OT before eventually succumbing to their opponent, but the B’s haven’t been one of those teams recently.
In the last month the B’s have dropped one-goal games to the Rangers, Coyotes, Devils and Lightning at a portion of the season when the Devils and Capitals remained within 10 points of the Spoked B in the East — with important games in hand for each club. The Bruins clearly could have used additional points to pile on to their first place cushion.
With some additional grit and firepower in Boston’s “new” and largely healthy lineup, the young and hungry Bruins must find a way to will themselves into overtime in some of those “close but no cigar” one goal losses that have been all too common lately.
Injury Ward: Both Stephane Yelle (undisclosed injury after falling backwards and banging his neck and shoulder into the boards) and Steve Montador (flu) missed the game for the B’s, and it’s still unclear whether Yelle will meet the team in Columbus tomorrow or Tuesday. Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler both played a bit of center in Yelle’s absence.
Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew scored a goal on a sweet backhanded move that tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, and laid out five hits for the Bruins on the day. It was the perfect example of the skill and scowl that Kobasew brings to the table with his fearless bumper car style on a regular basis.
Goat Horns: Manny Fernandez hasn’t looked good in his last two starts, and has allowed four goals in four of his last five appearances since coming back from a midseason back injury. Man-Fern, after losing track of the puck, was a technical mess on the Ryan Callahan tap-in goal in the second period that gave the Rangers a commanding 3-1 lead. With points at a premium, it’s going to be difficult to give Fernandez a chance to play into getting his groove back.
Turning Point: For the second time in a big, playoff-style game against an Eastern Conference foe, a flukey play proved to be the difference in the game when an odd carom off the back boards came right back out in front of the B’s net. Nikolai Zherdev took advantage of some “right place in the right time” mojo and banged in the game-winner past Fernandez with less than seven minutes to go in the game.
|03.07.09 at 6:06 pm ET|
With Blake Wheeler relegated to being a healthy scratch for the Bruins lineup for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon, the message was sent out loud and clear to the entire team that those deserving ice time on merrit — and spots reserved in the 18 skaters sent out for each and every game from here on out — will be getting it regardless of salary, pedigree or reputation.
It’s a point that B’s coach Claude Julien made with Milan Lucic last season at certain points in his rookie season, and something he did in Montreal while coaching Michael Ryder as a rookie amid a group of veterans Canadiens skaters. Julien is hoping that the breather can reinvigorate Wheeler as much as it seemed to help energize the entire hockey club. on Saturday afternoon in a pivotal “show me” game.
“Players in their first year sometimes they get to a point where they hit a wall. Everything seems to be overwhelming and heavy on them. Everything we did for him today was for the best for Wheels,” said Julien following the victory. “He’s going to take a step back. He had an opportunity to watch the game tonight with [Assistant Coach Doug] Houda upstairs (in the press box) and chat about what he was seeing.
“There’s no doubt that’s going to benefit him. I thought it was important to him at this stage to do that, and he’s too good of a player to keep out of the line-up for a very long time. It was something that I think is certainly going to benefit him in the long run.”
The move — made possible with the addition of the versatile, offensively gifted Mark Recchi to the Bruins lineup this week — clearly paid immediate dividends as it sparked the Bruins offense to 39 shots and five goals in a 5-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The B’s had previously been working and fighting their way through a listless 3-6-2 stretch over their last 11 games, but many of the traits they’d been shying away from returned in a fiercely lunch-pail opening two periods against an explosive Chicago team.
It was a nod to the Big, Bad hockey game that this young and powerful team featured so many times over the first half of the year: sending willing and able bodies crashing to the net, crushing hits waiting in the corners and for any opposing skater brave or foolish enough to retrieve pucks or invade Boston’s defensive zone, and the kind of skill that can pick a team apart once they’ve been properly loosened by the on-ice B’s battering rams up and down Boston’s roster.
The “back to B’s basics” couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It comes at a very important time because we need to get back on track,” said goalie Tim Thomas. “You can look at our record after January and look at our record the past 10 games and we need to start putting some wins together, whether they are ugly, pretty or hard-worked-for like tonight.”
As it wont to happen with a struggling hockey club seeking to climb out of doldrums, the Black and Gold skaters kept it simple and furiously threw pucks and bodies at the net. Recchi lived to his “Wrecking Ball” moniker by camping out in front of the net and jamming the puck between Crystobal Huet’s pads for the first score, and then tipped a shot through a sliver of an opening for Boston’s third goal.
The Blackhawks skaters tied it up at 1-1 a short time after Recchi’s first strike — just as the Phoenix Coyotes had done only two nights prior — but this time the Bruins didn’t break, bend or fold under the small-ish bit of adversity. Instead, David Krejci followed Recchi’s lead and absorbed an Andrew Ference shot in the gut by the post, and then quickly blasted the loose puck into a crack on the short side of Chicago’s net.
Recchi followed with the second score in tight around the Chicago net that made it 3-1, and the Bruins attack was off and running. The mistake-inducing forecheck and pinpoint pinball passing led to a perfect Marc Savard setup for Phil Kessel in the right faceoff circle, and Kessel — who had fumbled away a similarly picture-perfect dish from Savard in the first period — buried his second chance at scored his team-leading 27th goal of the season. It was a great game overall for Kessel, Lucic and Savard and continued the momentum they began to build up when they were reunited in the third period of their loss to the Coyotes.
It was one of eight shots on goal for the dangerous Kessel, who seemed to take heart to the “earn your ice time” philosophy that Julien was imploring following the offensively-challenged effort against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night: get rubber to the net and good things are going to happen for both the player and the team.
“Every night you watch highlights on TV, and there’s always a few of those (gritty) goals going in. So why not put pucks on net?” said Julien. “I think we need to do that as much as we can. We lost a game a week ago in here on a shot from outside the blue line. Those things happen in this game, so it’s important we don’t try and be too cute.”
Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle sustained an injury in the second period after falling backwards into the boards, and won’t be making the trip to New York for Sunday’s matinee against the New York Rangers. Julien said after the game that his veteran center will be evaluated on Sunday, and he’s not sure if Yelle will meet them for Tuesday’s game in Columbus.
Player of the Game: Phil Kessel. The young winger seemed energized in a matchup against Chicago’s fellow young guns like Jonathan Toews and Pat Kane, and fired off eight shots on net — including the eventual game-winner for the B’s in the third period
Goat Horns: Brian Campbell and Marty Havlat both finished with -3s for the Blackhawks, and were among several Chicago players overpowered by Recchi down low throughout the game. Havlat was dominant at points, but took some very bad angle, low percentage shots at the cage.
Turning Point: The game wasn’t truly won until the Bruins responded to Chicago’s best roundhouse right in the third period, and P.J. Axelsson turned into a one-man forechecking machine in the closing minute. Axelsson appropriately ended up with the open net score for all his hard work, and the game was placed securely in the W column. It’s moment like these when it’s clear why Axelsson is such a valued member of the Bruins.
|03.07.09 at 2:55 pm ET|
18:51: The intensity that the Bruins have put into this one really seems to be wearing down the Blackhawks. A Chicago defenseman wiped out while attempting to change direction, and turned the puck right over to Milan Lucic at the blue line. Looch worked it to Savard in the middle and he found a wide open Phil Kessel at the right faceoff dot, and Kessel slammed it home for his 27th goal of the season.
10:55: Great job of hustling and backchecking by Matt Hunwick to keep the puck in the Chicago zone, and then nearly set up a score to Shawn Thornton barreling down toward the net.
9:34: Old friend Kris Versteeg pops in a long rebound to cut the Bruins lead within two goals. The score came after the Blackhawks had noticeably ramped up the intensity.
5:26: Absolute laser beam of a shot off the stick of Pat Kane during the opening seconds of a Chicago power play (Andrew Ference, interference). The rocket released at the edge of the left faceoff circle and cuts it to a one-goal game.
1:53: Tim Thomas has been immense in the past few moments as the Blackhawks have really turned up the pressure. Crafty shot by Marty Havlat from behind the net that bounced off Andrew Ference’s leg, but Thomas able to smother it.
00:32.2: Great forecheck by P.J. Axelsson and he gets the emtpy-netter to salt away the win for the Bruins.
The B’s lead the Blackhawks by a 4-3 score with 4:31 to go in the third period.
|03.07.09 at 2:22 pm ET|
19:35: Good bid by Milan Lucic from the doorstep after completely cleaning defenseman Matt Walker’s clock in the corner to open the second period.
16:24: The crossbar continues to be unkind to the Blackhawks as Martin Havlat had a great play from the left faceoff circle in looking off Dave Bolland and firing away the Bruins net. The puck beat Thomas, but rocketed off the crossbar and back out of the net. Close call once again for the Spoked ‘B’.
13:07: Juggling save of a Troy Brouwer shot from the high slot by Tim Thomas following a close call to a puck that close to off-sides for the Blackhawks.
12:50: First penalty of the game award goes to Aaron Ward for hooking.
6:51: Great pad save right in front on a bang-bang shot by Dustin Byfuglien, who is having a pretty solid game for Chicago.
6:18: Holding penatly on Andrew Ference as he attempted to break up a furious Martin Havlat rush to the B’s net.
4:49: Power play goal for Jonathan Toews after a pretty gutsy job of goaltending and penalty killing for the Bruins. Chicago magic man Pat Kane worked the puck down in the right corner for Toews, who wheeled toward the net, shot the puck and got a fortunate bounce off Aaron Ward’s body in front of the net to tie things at 1-1.
4:18: David Krejci answers right back while camped out by the Blackhawks net. He took an Andrew Ference shot off the bread basket, and then tucked the puck in short side before Huet could respond.
1:47: Great back-to-back stops by Huet on a pair of Patrice Bergeron power play swipes in front of the Chicago net.
The B’s lead the Blackhawks by a 3-1 score after some shock and awe with 00:45 to go in the second period.
|03.07.09 at 1:17 pm ET|
16:00: Near miss by Blackhawks winger Andrew Ladd on a backhanded bid that flipped over the crossbar.
13:57: Good scoring bid by the Bruins fourth line. Shawn Thornton worked the puck into the neutral zone and tried to hit a speeding P.J. Axelsson on the off-wing, but instead a deflection put the puck on Stephane Yelle’s stick. The veteran unloaded a shot from the high slot just inside the blue line that Crystobal Huet was able to catch with some pad, and then cover up without further damage.
11:55: Near miss for the Blackhawks as Dustin Byfuglien hit Thomas and then the crossbar behind Thomas with a wobbly, bad angle forehand bid. Johnson raised his hands in mini-celebration before he hit the pipe.
00:10: Great rush up the left wing by Marc Savard in the closing seconds, and an even better dish to Phil Kessel on the right wing that got Huet moving right to left. But Kessel couldn’t handle Savard’s tape-to-tape beauty and the B’s end the period with a fruitless flurry.
Good jump by the Black and Gold here in the early going. B’s out shoot the Hawks 15-7 for the period, and laid out 13 hits over the first 20 minutes.
The Bruins lead the Blackhawks by a 1-0 score with one full period in the books at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|03.07.09 at 1:01 pm ET|
Blake Wheeler, in the middle of some rookie struggles over the last month, was scratched from the Bruins lineup despite being in good health, and Matt Hunwick will take his place along the forward lines with David Krejci and Michael Ryder.
Hunwick and Wheeler shared time at the left wing during practice on Friday.
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