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WILMINGTON — The 2-0 Bruins will be in New York Wednesday to face the 0-2 Rangers, and the math alone makes Boston coach Claude Julien think it will be an intense evening at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t think — I know they will,’’ said Julien, figuring that the winless Broadway Blueshirts will be a particularly ornery lot. “When you are put in that position and you are the type of team that they are, we expect nothing but their best game out of them.’’
Meanwhile, his Bruins thus far have sailed freely into the lockout-shortened season, with Saturday night’s 3-1 win over the Blueshirts followed by Monday’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Jets. The Bruins haven’t scored in abundance, but they’ve skated with pace and purpose, not to mention some convincing thump. Milan Lucic topped the charts with 10 hits Monday, and on Tuesday morning he was No. 1 on the NHL’s hit list (14).
“We know our fans,’’ Lucic said after a brief practice Tuesday morning, “and they like that Big, Bad Bruins style.’’
Last season, Lucic finished as Boston’s top hitter with 201, followed by team captain Zdeno Chara (166) and Dennis Seidenberg (154). His 201 hits ranked Lucic 26th in the league. It’s been obvious since his days as a raw rookie that Lucic’s game is best when he’s moving his legs and lining up opposition forwards, defensemen and, oh, the odd goalie (see: Buffalo’s Ryan Miller).
“That’s part of us finding our identity again,’’ said Julien. “It’s not just as a team, but also as individuals. We’ve talked about that. And Milan has certainly understood that his physical presence is a big part of our success and our image — his kind of play.
“That’s what creates more room for him and allows him to score goals and get points. He has bought into that, obviously, and the first two games have been a real good sign. We keep talking about consistency, and that’s what we need from him as far as that part of the game is concerned.’’
Chara, whose 10 hits ranked him third in the league Tuesday morning (with the Sabres’ Steve Ott parked in second with 12), always has been an ardent devotee of the hit game. His best thump Monday was a middle-of-the-ice body slam of Blake Wheeler, who offended Chara’s sense of fair play when the ex-Bruin came a little too hard at rookie Dougie Hamilton, Chara’s blue line partner for the afternoon.
“I have to protect Dougie,’’ said Chara. “We all have to make sure he’s comfortable. That’s not just me, but the whole team. And that’s not just because he’s a rookie — which isn’t a term I like to use anyway — but, with [Wheeler] that was sort of, ‘OK, if you’re going to do that, we’re going to say something.’ And so I showed him at the red line.’’
Wheeler, rocked by the hit, crashed heavily to the Garden ice, dusted himself off, and returned to the Jets bench. Rarely, if ever, a physical presence during his Boston tenure, the 6-foot-5-inch Wheeler took a hands-off approach with Hamilton for the remainder of the matinee.
Chara, 35, was named captain upon signing with the Bruins as a free agent in the summer of 2006. He avoids the term “rookie’’ because he feels it unnecessarily labels and potentially segregates players.
In his view, a roster of 20 or more doesn’t comprise “veterans’’ or “rookies.’’
“I just like to call them teammates,’’ he said. “All of them. It’s one of my unwritten rules. I like to treat everybody on the team the same way.
“If you say ‘rookie,’ then to me that can give the feeling that he’s less than anyone else. Why? Just because it’s his first year? No way. He has all the same rights as everyone else.
“And I’ve told him that. I’ve said, ‘Listen, don’t be intimidated because I’m your partner. If we’re out there and you see something, and you think we need to correct it, then say it.’ ’’
Hamilton noted after the win Monday that he appreciated Chara’s actions. The retaliation, he said, left him with a big smile.
“More than anything else, they feel like they are appreciated,’’ said Julien, asked how a rookie would feel over such action.
“A guy like Z — who he idolizes to start with — has him under his wing and is going to protect him. If your teammates didn’t like you, it’s probably pretty obvious that they wouldn’t go out there to protect you.’’
Brad Marchand was excused from practice, what Julien termed a “maintenance day’’ for the gritty left winger. “You guys will probably see a lot of that,’’ said Julien, noting that players with early-season bumps and bruises will be monitored closely . . . Seidenberg, whose lower-body injury prevented him from playing Monday, was the first player on the ice for practice and made it through the entire 30-minute session. Both Marchand and Seidenberg will be in New York, their ability to play to be assessed throughout the day. The unsigned Jay Pandolfo filled Marchand’s role in the workout, possibly an indication that Julien doesn’t expect Marchand to sit out against the Blueshirts . . . Entering Tuesday night’s games, the crafty Marchand led the league with five takeaways. “We don’t talk about it it much,’’ said Julien, asked if takeaways were a point of emphasis in workouts. “But we always talk about having a good stick, an active stick. On the forecheck [Monday], we turned a lot of pucks over, and a lot of that happens in the forecheck, in corner battles. It’s all about good sticks. Marchand is shifty, tough to defend against. He is small and he is shifty. He gets in there and gets it and he’s gone.’’ . . . The Bruins are 0 for 9 on the power play and through Monday were one of six clubs yet to score on the man-advantage. On the flip side, they are a perfect 9 for 9 on the penalty kill, matching four other clubs for 100 percent efficiency.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.