By Mike Miccoli
Milan Lucic has a gash on his nose. Zdeno Chara is sporting a black-eye. Not even halfway through the 2013-14 NHL season and the Boston Bruins’ battle wounds are on full display.
The bumps and bruises are painful reminders of the warrior-like nature of the game. Chara and Lucic are just two of the latest Bruins with discolored badges all for doing their job. Even though, it’s not really their job nowadays.
Although very different, Chara and Lucic are two of the more physical players in a Bruins uniform, Chara and known for their heavy hits and aggressive style of play. But fighting? Not so much anymore. That’s why it’s ironic that two of the toughest Bruins had their respective first fights of the season on back-to-back game nights with Chara throwing down against the New York Rangers’ Brian Boyle on Friday, followed by Lucic accepting the challenge of Columbus Blue Jackets’ Dalton Prout on Saturday. Aside from their penalty minutes on score-sheet, Chara and Lucic are very similar seeing as they were the two most important Bruins offensively in the team’s back-to-back wins on Thanksgiving weekend.
You can talk about unfair trade-offs and the benefits that serve Boston’s opponents with a top-notch shutdown defenseman like Chara in the box for five minutes, or with Lucic, the Bruins’ leading goal scorer away from the game for the same amount of times. All of this is true and perfectly logical. It might seem unnecessary for both Chara and Lucic to pull themselves away from a game when both have such vital roles on the team, especially with other enforcers ready and willing to mix it up. Instead, the developing rarities of Chara and Lucic actually dropping the gloves show that the two players are growing into their roles.
It shows that they get it.
Forget about whether you agree that fighting belongs in hockey or not for a second. Chara and Lucic play their game with an edge in order to give the Bruins a competitive advantage in winning hockey games. Sure, Lucic might be a bit of a goon sometimes and Chara may over-exaggerate calls, but you can’t argue that what they bring to the Bruins is unparalleled. When they fight, it adds another dimension to their game, making them that much tougher to play against.
Along with dropping the gloves for the first time this season, Chara finished Friday’s 3-2 win over the Rangers with a goal and an assist, while Lucic finished Saturday’s 3-1 win against the Blue Jackets with two goals. While their fights may not share any correlation to the team’s success, it shows growth in both Chara and Lucic who are realizing how valuable they are to the team and knowing when to tangle up with opponents. The Bruins were down 2-1 on Friday when Chara fought Boyle and there was a noticeable shift in the team’s play after seeing their captain attempt to change the pace of the game. On Saturday, the B’s were ahead 2-0 when Lucic accepted Prout’s challenge in the second period.
If the score was tied or the Bruins were ahead by only one goal, things may have been different. It’s possible that losing Chara with the lead could have caused the other team to capitalize while having Lucic in the box when down a score could have been a loss chance for the Bruins to tie a game or take the lead. Chara and Lucic are picking their spots, fighting only when they need to, not for the sake of doing it. They’ve accepted that their roles as hockey players aren’t to go out fight but rather control the pace of the game whether that means being physical, scoring or playing stand-up hockey. Fighting is an afterthought–a means to be taken only when necessary. It’s more important to play disciplined hockey.
Their fights in the last two games were coupled with offensive production. It shows that if they’re going to fight and take themselves off the ice for an extended amount of time, then they better do something on the score-sheet to help their team win, too. Chara and Lucic did just that.
With 27 played, the Bruins’ 18-7-2 record is good enough to put them in first in the Eastern Conference. The team rebounded nicely after the 6-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings earlier in the week, with back-to-back wins over the Rangers and Blue Jackets padding their lead on the division and conference. The Bruins don’t need to fight to win hockey games, nor should that even be an option, but they do need to continue to know what is needed to control the pace of the game. By staying disciplined at the same time, it’s a delicate line that the Bruins must walk in order to be successful.