- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Whether he's scoring goals or rattling boards, bones and teeth, hulking forward Milan Lucic has developed into the perfect Boston Bruins player.
The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder has the ability the beat an opponent in every aspect of the game, especially with his physical play. Lucic has developed into the type of player Bruins fans have grown to love in this born-again hockey hotbed.
Lucic, 23, already is playing in his fifth season with the Bruins. When Boston selected him in the second round (50th overall) in the 2006 draft, he was compared to former Bruins great Cam Neely. Sure, Lucic has a long way to go before anyone can consider him in the same class as No. 8, but the current No. 17 has built a solid foundation.
Lucic's relentless style of play and ferocious forecheck were on display this past Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. Late in the first period, Lucic was chasing a loose puck in the offensive zone when he collided with the Sabres' Ryan Miller, sending the goaltender spiraling to the ice.
Miller and the Sabres were not happy with the incident that landed Lucic in the box with a minor penalty for charging. Afterward, Lucic claimed he had his head down in pursuit of the puck, and when he looked up at the last second, Miller, who was in the faceoff circle to his right trying to play the puck, was right in front of him.
Miller remained in the game for the rest of the first period and the entire second period before he was replaced by backup Jhonas Enroth to start the third. Following the game Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said Miller had a sore neck, and later the team deemed it a concussion.
The NHL held a disciplinary hearing Monday and ruled that Lucic was not at fault and would not be suspended or fined for the play. It was the right decision by Brendan Shanahan, the senior vice president of player safety and hockey operations.
Miller and the Sabres likely will disagree with the league's decision, but Lucic was only hustling and trying to create a scoring chance. If he did not play with that controlled style of reckless abandon, Lucic would not be a successful player. If he did not play that way, he would not have been able to help the Bruins hoist the Stanley Cup last spring.
"He's the prototypical old Bruin," defenseman Adam McQuaid said. "He's a power forward who can score, and it's a pretty tough combination for a D-man when you're worried about getting put through the boards, or a guy making a play and scoring a goal. That's a tough combination. All I know is we're all glad he's on our team."
After a slow start to the season, the Bruins' top line of Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton has been playing extremely well of late, posting a total of 20 points during the team's current five-game winning streak. If Lucic had been suspended, even for one game, it could have had a negative effect on the group's momentum.
"Obviously, you would be disappointed about it no matter if the team was on a roll or not on a roll," Lucic said. "Even for myself, these last eight or nine games I've found my game and the last thing you want to do is get out of the lineup."
Bruins coach Claude Julien does not condone the practice of running an opposing goaltender, but he said Lucic did nothing wrong on Saturday.
"You've seen it before where guys run over goaltenders," Julien said. "It certainly shouldn't be a game plan to run goaltenders over. To say you put traffic in front of him is one thing, to run him over I certainly disagree with that. That reinforces the fact that certainly it wasn't meant to happen that way."
Goalies should be fair game once they leave the crease. If they want to play the puck, they should expect to get hit.
Part of Rule 69 states: "A goalkeeper is not 'fair game' just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact."
Lucic called the incidental contact with a goaltender a "gray area" and he was in an area on Saturday where he couldn't avoid the check.
Miller made it a point to wait around after Saturday's game so that members of the media were available to relay his message to Lucic and the Bruins.
"I just want to say what a piece of [expletive] I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that. It's unbelievable," Miller said. "Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he played. That was gutless. Gutless piece of [expletive]."
Lucic said the goaltender's comment didn't resonate with the Bruins.
"Obviously he felt like he needed to stick around and say what he said," Lucic said. "For me, it's in one ear and out the other. I just move on and focus on what I need to do to continue to help this team be successful.
"That's never a part of our game plan to go after a goalie and run him over, or anything like that. If you look at my record, for a big guy who does go to the net a lot, I don't even have a handful of goalie interferences penalties in my career." (He has three.)
Part of the reason the Bruins won the Cup last spring, and a major part of the team's current success, is its ability to sustain a solid forecheck on its opponent. When the Bruins are in pursuit of the puck in the offensive zone, the goalie should not be allowed to interfere, said Krejci.
"It makes you look bad if the goalie is out of his crease and is playing the puck and you swing away from him," Krejci said. "It makes you look bad and then you get in trouble by your coach."
Of course, there are goalies who have the ability to handle the puck well and serve as the team's third defenseman on the ice.
"If they're going to play the puck outside the crease, then you should be able to do something about it," Krejci said. "Obviously not run them over, but make a little bit of contact, like Looch did. But the league has to make a decision and they have to make it really clear what we're allowed and not allowed to do."
Even if Lucic did receive a suspension or fine on the play, he wouldn't have changed the style that makes him and the Bruins so successful.
"He's one of the top players on our team and when your top players are going you're going to have the best chance to win," McQuaid said. "He's definitely got good things going right now and hopefully he can continue."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.