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BOSTON (CBS) – The Bruins’ brass had to hold its collective breath Monday night as a combination of the new NHL rule forbidding players from removing their helmets before fights and the “steel jaw” (as coach Claude Julien called it) of Washington’s Joel Rechlicz nearly put Milan Lucic’s health in jeopardy.
Boston’s star forward had to engage in a fist-throwing battle with the 26-year-old Rechlicz, who’s just two seasons removed from accumulating 267 penalty minutes in the American Hockey League, after a clean but explosive hit on Capitals forward Dane Byers.
The fight lasted long enough to pop a bowl of popcorn and it seemed like Lucic wasn’t going to quit until he made Rechlicz’s face look like snack food even while he and the Capitals tough guy kept their caps on. When the linesman was finally able to break up the bout, you could hear the exhale sweep across New England. A season-changing broken hand seemed surely in the offing.
Nonetheless, Lucic didn’t back away from his decision to oblige Rechlicz.
“Obviously there’s a lot of cons in fighting in preseason. You don’t want to break a hand or get a concussion or anything like that from fighting in the preseason,” Lucic said after the Bruins won 3-2 in overtime at TD Garden. “But you know the pros are you’re showing that no matter what the situation is or no matter what the game is, you’re going to stick up for yourself and your teammates no matter what the situation is. And that’s what it basically was. I didn’t really have a choice. So like I said, it was just good to get into one. And it was a long one. I had to catch my breath after that one.”
Luckily for the Bruins, Lucic emerged with only his shortness of breath. Let’s face it, challenged or not, it’s just not wise for Boston’s $6 million man to risk his hands against a guy with 26 games of NHL experience. Nonetheless, Julien had Lucic’s back after the game and summed up his position with the old “hockey’s hockey” line. Of course, fighting would be a lot safer if both guys were able to swing away at uncovered heads. Many around the league are voicing their displeasure with the new rule, which is designed to prevent a player from cracking his skull on the ice. There were unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for helmet removal in the Bruins-Capitals game, including after Aaron Volpatti removed Kevan Miller’s helmet for him.
Lucic didn’t duck the challenge from Rechlicz, but the Boston winger decided to not take a run at the new rule.
“I don’t know, it’s … I know with the mandatory visors [for guys with less than 25 games NHL experience] and then not being able to take off your helmet, you’re going to see a lot more guys punching helmets and maybe guys breaking their hands a lot more just from hitting a helmet,” Lucic said. “So it’s one of those rules that the NHL felt like they needed to make and regardless of what I think of it, we still have to live with it.”
The Bruins and the rest of the league have to live with the helmet and visor rules. Life would be a lot easier to deal with if Lucic would be a little less reckless and not put his season on the line against minor leaguers.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.