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The Bear Cave


August 31, 2009 9:07 AM

Top Game #3: Lucic Sees Hats

In June of 2006, the Boston Bruins used their third pick (50th overall) in the NHL Entry Draft to select forward Milan Lucic. That season, the Vancouver, BC native returned home, where he led the Vancouver Giants to a Memorial Cup Championship. The following autumn, Lucic earned a spot on Boston's roster, and quickly became a fan favorite. As a rookie at age 19, Lucic recorded eight goals, 19 assists, and 27 points, while earning fame and respect from his ability to drop the gloves.

Milan Lucic's exciting rookie campaign made fans wonder just what type of player they had in Boston. Many early comparisons were being drawn between this 6-foot-3 forward and Bruins' legend Cam Neely. However, Lucic would get off to a bit of a slow start in 2008-09, scoring just one goal in the team's first six contests. Prior to the seventh game, the 20-year old opted for a change, inserting contact lenses to help with his vision on the ice. Despite going scoreless in that tilt, Lucic's new eyes saw a special night at the TD Banknorth Garden on October 25th. That night, the B's hosted the Atlanta Thrashers, ultimately earning the third spot on our countdown of the top ten games from this past season.

The Bruins entered the game with an 0-1-2 record that week, and judging by the first period, it looked as though frustration was going to settle in yet again. Despite a heavy advantage in shots for the visitors, the game stayed scoreless for most of the opening period. Atlanta's power play made sure to change that with just under five minutes to go. Vyacheslav Kozlov set up the play by passing to Erik Christensen in the slot. Christensen put a heavy shot on goal that Manny Fernandez stopped, but the rebound bounced over to the left side of the crease for Jason Williams. Fernandez had yet to find the loose biscuit, giving Williams the opportunity to slam it in.

With another power play in hand, and time ticking away, the Thrashers struck again. Zdeno Chara attempted to swing the puck around the boards and out, but Vyacheslav Kozlov pinched in to keep the play alive. Ilya Kovalchuk picked up the puck in the right circle, before passing back to an oncoming Mathieu Schneider. Schneider didn't get as much on the shot as he had hoped for, but managed to flutter it through the legs of Manny Fernandez for a 2-0 lead. The blueliner's tally came with just eleven seconds left on the clock.

Something must have been said in the locker room between periods, as a new team took the ice in Black & Gold during the second. 3:37 into the period, the home team got on the board. The puck kicked off of the right wing boards to a vacant spot in the Boston offensive zone. Shawn Thornton hustled over and took an off-balance slap shot. Stephane Yelle parked himself in front of the crease, and got a piece of the shot to send it tumbling past Johan Hedberg.

Momentum was beginning to lean in the Bruins' favor following Yelle's goal, and 2:20 later, the 2-0 deficit was erased completely. Marc Savard skated down the right side, and started to head around the back of the net. As he reached the goal line, an Atlanta defenseman poked the puck away. Luckily, Michael Ryder was right there to help his teammate, while Milan Lucic went to the slot. Nobody was defending Lucic, so Ryder put a pass on his stick. From there, the Boston forward buried a shot low on Hedberg's stick side for the goal.

Over the years, one of the strengths for Atlanta has been Ilya Kovalchuk's ability to create magic on the power play. Midway through the second period, the Bruins found out just how talented the Russian forward can be. Kovalchuk started off at the top of the left circle, before handing off for Mathieu Schneider at the point. Schneider let a shot go toward the net that got blocked by Zdeno Chara, but the rebound kicked out to the bottom of the left circle. Kovalchuk was right where he needed to be, taking a swing as soon as the puck touched the ice, and ripping it into the back of the net.

A little more than four minutes later, the Bruins got a power play of their own, and they also made it count. Dennis Wideman threw a shot on goal from the point, but was turned away by Hedberg. The rebound got smacked around, eventually making its way to David Krejci. Krejci wound up, hesitated, then drilled a slap shot into the top-left corner of the goal. Boston outshot the Thrashers 18-6 in the middle frame, and skated into the locker room with a new outlook on a 3-3 game.

Just over five minutes into the third period, the Bruins got their first lead of the evening. The play started at the right point, where Jim Slater went down after blocking an Andrew Ference slap shot. After getting the puck back, Ference slid a cross-ice pass over to Dennis Wideman for a one-timer from the left point. Milan Lucic kept his stick on the ice in the slot, allowing him to get a piece of Wideman's shot, sending it up and under the crossbar for his second goal of the game.

Boston's lead lasted for a mere 2:14, before the Thrashers evened the score. Colby Armstrong got leveled against the boards by Zdeno Chara, but managed to receive a pass from Marty Reasoner once he got up. Still fuming from the hit, Armstrong found Vyacheslav Kozlov in the low slot, and delivered a pass that way. Kozlov went five hole on Fernandez, just sneaking a shot through his legs.

Fans began to think about overtime as the minutes began counting down, but the crowd was given one more thing to cheer about with 1:41 remaining in regulation. Marc Savard fought hard along the boards, ultimately winning possession of the puck for the Bruins. Milan Lucic skated in and grabbed the loose puck, before heading to the net. Lucic tried sending a pass through the crease to Savard, but got blocked. As luck would have it, the blocked pass went right back to the Boston forward, who thought better of it, and slipped a backhander under Hedberg and Tobias Enstrom. This completed the hat trick for Lucic, and put Boston in great position to take home the two points.

Atlanta tried to get something going at the beginning of the final minute, but didn't have much luck generating shots. When the final buzzer sounded, the Bruins had themselves a 5-4 victory. Manny Fernandez made 28 saves on 32 shots in the win for Boston. Johan Hedberg also made 28 saves, but suffered the loss, allowing five goals for the Thrashers. One statistic to take notice of in this game was the success of the power plays. Atlanta was 3-for-4, while Boston was 2-for-5.

Milan Lucic went on to finish his sophomore season with 17 goals, 25 assists, 42 points, and 136 penalty minutes in 72 regular season games. The 20-year old also had three goals and six assists for nine points during the playoffs. Most experts are expecting Lucic to be a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL, while also being a solid two-way player thanks to his ability to play the body.

Lucic's hat trick was the first of his NHL career, and was the first of four hat tricks by the Bruins during the 2008-09 campaign. The other three were scored by Blake Wheeler (November 6th vs. Toronto), David Krejci (December 18th vs. Toronto), and Phil Kessel (April 12th at New York Islanders).

The October 25th win over the Atlanta Thrashers served as a milestone night for Milan Lucic, and he was able to do it in exciting fashion, as his final goal gave the Bruins the upper hand with less than two minutes left to play.

In game number two on the countdown, fans in Boston find out about the character that the 2008-09 Bruins possessed, as a few pests visited Causeway Street.

2008-09 Boston Bruins Top Ten Games:
3. October 25th- Atlanta 4 @ BRUINS 5
4. January 27th- Washington 2 @ BRUINS 3 (OT)
5. April 9th- Montreal 4 @ BRUINS 5 (OT)
6. April 4th- New York R. 0 @ BRUINS 1
7. March 7th- Chicago 3 @ BRUINS 5
8. February 1st- BRUINS 3 @ Montreal 1
9. November 12th- BRUINS 2 @ Chicago 1 (SO)
10A. October 27th- BRUINS 1 @ Edmonton 0 (OT)
10B. October 28th- BRUINS 1 @ Vancouver 0 

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