WILMINGTON – Milan Lucic’s suspension was for just one game, but because of the Bruins’ schedule it’s turned out to be more like a week-long ban.
“It felt a little bit longer,” admitted Lucic Thursday after practice at Ristuccia Arena, where the Bruins prepared for their final pre-Christmas game Friday night at home against Florida.
While he was still a bit sore over NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan’s decision to suspend him for his hit last Saturday on Philadelphia’ Zac Rinaldo – a play even Rinaldo claimed was a clean hit – Lucic explained that the rest this time of year should do him well, and it helped to see the game from a different perspective for one night.
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When Lucic gets back in the lineup against the Panthers, the key to his continued success in his fifth NHL season will be to not let his first suspension for something he did between the whistles (he was suspended for his actions in a scrum in the 2009 playoffs) alter his play. As much as the Bruins rely on him for his goal-scoring ability and the chemistry he’s forged over the past season with Nathan Horton and David Krejci, they also rely on him to be a physical presence in front of the net and along the walls, where his hit with Rinaldo occurred.
“I can’t change my game. I play with a lot of emotion and I do everything I can to keep it safe and follow the guidelines of the new hitting protocol and all that type of stuff,” he said. “So obviously, a big part of my game is being physical and creating emotion. And I can’t lose that, that’s for sure.”
Bruins head coach Claude Julien and his staff will be sure to encourage Lucic to be himself.
“I hope not,” said Julien when asked if he expected Lucic’s game to change. “I know we’re going to make sure that we let him know that we don’t want him to change his style and again, that suspension was because of different things. One was a playoff thing that had nothing to do with a hit, and one was the collision with [Buffalo’s Ryan] Miller that maybe at the time, when look back, they maybe should’ve called him for that and that probably would’ve diminished maybe the suspension of this last one.”
“But we’re going to ask him to go out and play the same way. We’re a physical team and we don’t want that element to creep out of our game. I don’t think the NHL wants that element to creep out of the game. They’re trying to, obviously, manage it the best they can. But we certainly don’t want players playing afraid of finishing their checks.”
Lucic says he won’t be afraid to throw the body and he doesn’t fear another telephone hearing with Shanahan, whom he’s had to speak with twice this season including the chat about the hit on Miller.
When you play the way Lucic does, discussions of what crosses the line and what’s within the rules are always going to arise. Lucic wants everyone, including Shanahan, to know that he’s always mindful of staying within the letter of the law.
“Obviously you don’t want to hear from him again. And obviously I was upset that I had to go through that whole process again,” said Lucic. “That’s something definitely, that’s not a guy you want to talk to too much for those reasons. And I wanted to make clear to him that I do understand what he’s trying to do. And I want to make clear that I understand and I’m doing everything I can to not make dangerous hits. That’s one thing that I did try to do in the conversation.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operatesTheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.