Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Boston Bruins on Paper: Semi's with Habs opens Thursday; "KIL" line focused and ready

Milan Lucic was in tears.

Hard to imagine, right?  The left winger for the top or "KIL" line for the Boston Bruins, the man that Bruins' play-by-play man Jack Edwards sometimes refers to as a "Freight Train on skates", sobbing like a little boy that had his feelings hurt in a schoolyard scuffle... 2003, Lucic was a kid - not the power forward with the cool nicknames that he has now - but a 14 year old growing up in Vancouver, devastated by not being selected in the 2003 Western Hockey League draft.

"He'd look at the computer every five minutes to see if anyone would pick him up," his mother, Snezana Lucic told the Vancouver Province in 2008. "Nobody picked him and at the dinner table that night he started crying. I asked what was wrong and he said, 'Nobody drafted me. I feel like quitting. I'm going to quit.'"

We've all been there, whether it was being told either directly or indirectly that we weren't good enough - be it in sports, our jobs, school or just life in general - and hopefully all of us had support from family and friends, but it takes more than that.  It takes a resolve to do what you want to do with your life.

"I told him that he was so much better than that." Mrs. Lucic continued, "I told him that his father and I were here to support him. If that's what you want to do (play hockey), someone is going to notice you, someone is going to pick you up. It was touch and go then. He was really disappointed."

Of course, it all worked out, the young Lucic was picked up by the Coquitlam Express of the Junior A British Columbia Hockey League, took his lumps and disappointments that year between not making the Express team out of rookie camp, but eventually ending up on the roster five games into the season...

...then made his debut with the WHL Vancouver Giants for the playoffs and played the entire next season for the Giants before being drafted - finally, someone wanted him - by the Boston Bruins with the 50th overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

The acceptance did something to Lucic.  In much the same way that rejection brought out the tears and doubt in 2003, being drafted in the second round by the Bruins in 2006 brought out the fire and confidence as Lucic tore up the WHL the following season, scoring 68 points in 70 games and capturing the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the Memorial Cup MVP.

After the tournament, Lucic signed his entry level contract with the Bruins and made the roster out of camp, and the saga of Milan Lucic has been well documented ever since...

It's tough to look at the 6' 4" 240 pound Lucic and try to remember that he is just 25 years old, the junior member of a Bruins' top line that includes future Hall of Fame inductee Jarome Iginla and being centered by fellow seventh year veteran David Krejci, the Krejci/Iginla/Lucic (KIL) line combining for 73 goals and nearly a third of the Bruins point total for the 2013/14 NHL season...

...a season that saw the Bruins ascend to the pinnacle of regular season success, taking the Presidents' Cup by one point over the Anaheim Ducks as the team with the best record in the league, and now preparing to meet the hated Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after dispatching the Detroit Red Wings in the quarterfinals.

And it's Lucic's perseverance stemming from working through his early disappointments in Juniors that gives him such confidence in his game, and perhaps why he seems to carry a chip on his shoulder out on the ice - and also maybe why he and the rest of his Bruins' teammates seem to truly appreciate being involved in a seven game series with the rival Habs, cementing their names into hockey lore with each shift.

Game one in the series is slated for 7:30pm on Thursday evening at TD Garden in North Boston.

"So another Original Six battle that we get to be a part of, and a lot of hatred between the teams, the fans, the cities when it comes to this kind of rivalry. So we expect them to bring their best." Lucic said of the Canadiens, being careful not to upset the precariously placed apple cart of hate between the two rivals before the series even gets started.

Krejci, however, wasn't as diplomatic in his preview.

"They obviously got some little guys, so they like to play with the puck." the Czech centerman panned to  "They play fast and shifty. But I feel like, especially my line, I know we're going to be the line that's playing with the puck a lot,"

"It's going to be up to them to stop us." Krejci continued, lamenting his team's lack of aggression in the Red Wings' series. "We're going to be trying to make something happen and I'm going to try to have the puck on my stick all the time. That's going to be the difference between Detroit and this series."

It would seem that the 27-year-old pivot is suggesting that he was not satisfied with neither his performance in the series with the Red Wings, nor his line's - though the Bruins won the series handily, a point driven home by the remarks of Red Wings' captain Henrik Zetterberg after his team was eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday

"They really stick to their structure, they have been doing that for two to three years now and they know it works. I think experience and patience," Zetterberg said of what makes the Bruins so good, despite Krejci's disappointment. "I think if we look at them, they roll four lines, they do the same things, they get the puck out, they get the puck in. When the other team gives them an opportunity, they take advantage."

Krejci echoed what Zetterberg said, citing consistency and confidence.

"We've just got to trust the system and go out there and do the job." Krejci said. "I think we have a pretty good team here, and if we'll do our homework right then we should be able to get some results."

So between the pissed-off Krejci, the deeply emotional yet brutish Lucic and the ever-smiling, just-happy-to-be-here persona of Iginla, expect the KIL line to pick up their game a notch or two - which, to hear Krejci tell it, sounds like very bad news for the Canadiens.

"It is impressive." Zetterberg continued in his praise of the Bruins, whom he feels taught his young team a valuable lesson. "They are a good team, but they know how to win, they have been there. I think we have to realize how to play in the postseason, and if we do that and we really believe in what we do, we would have gone longer."

Really believing in what you do is why Milan Lucic is in the National Hockey League - and why the Bruins are the favorites to be hoisting the Stanley Cup in just a few short months.

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