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Lucic expects Ruff stuff

Bruin figures he will be a target in Buffalo tonight

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / November 23, 2011
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BUFFALO - Rugged Bruins winger Milan Lucic figures he has a fight waiting for him here tonight, the residue of his infamous entanglement 11 days ago with Ryan Miller that left the Buffalo goalie hurting, coach Lindy Ruff fuming, and Sabres teammates apologizing for standing idly by in the aftermath of Lucic’s shot heard ’round the world.

For all of that, the 23-year-old Lucic figures something wicked his way comes when the two clubs face off at the First Niagara Center.

“Yes . . . I am not going to lie . . . yes,’’ a smiling Lucic said matter-of-factly when asked yesterday afternoon if he expects someone on the Sabres roster to engage him.

Inside the Buffalo dressing room, there are few obvious candidates to try to square things with Lucic for the hit that left Miller concussed. Paul Gaustad would seem the most likely, because he at least has the size (6 feet 5 inches, 212 pounds) to stand toe to toe with the 6-4 Lucic. Gaustad said he was “embarrassed’’ by his club’s nonresponse the night of the incident.

Following yesterday’s late morning workout, Gaustad greeted a clutch of reporters amicably and said he would talk after showering, but he did not reappear by the time the club’s public relations staff rounded up the media posse for Ruff’s daily briefing.

Ex-Bruin Brad Boyes, dealt to Buffalo last February, has but 169 career penalty minutes in his six-plus NHL seasons, and the slick forward would rank among the least likely candidates to call out No. 17 in Black and Gold. But Boyes has been around long enough to understand, as he calls it, “the realm of hockey,’’ and he figures something is bound to happen tonight.

“Lucic is a big, tough player,’’ noted Boyes, once a first-round Maple Leafs draft pick, “and though that isn’t our style, we are a tough team. We don’t back down from anyone. We keep going after it. We’ll want to show that we’re tight.’’

On Nov. 12 at TD Garden, with 6:48 to go in the first period, a charging Lucic plowed into Miller as the veteran backstop ventured far from his net, attempting to field a puck as it slid toward the dot in the faceoff circle to his right. Photos of the play show a fully upright Miller poised and seemingly bracing for a collision as Lucic arrives. Miller was spun around and lost his helmet upon taking the brunt of Lucic’s impact high and to the back of his left shoulder.

“A collision ensued,’’ Lucic recalled yesterday, “and unfortunately, Miller got hurt.’’

Ruff, who yesterday tried to shift the focus of tonight’s game to what it means in the standings - an age-old dodge in the coaching business - was incensed in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Lucic received only a minor penalty for charging, and two days later, he avoided supplemental discipline when league vice president Brendan Shanahan essentially said the on-ice officiating crew made the right call.

The lack of a stiffer penalty, Ruff mused, would make it “open season’’ on goalies leaguewide. But NHL goalies have carried on their duties without incident and remain among the most protected players in all of pro sports.

Two days after the incident, Ruff met individually with his players over the course of some five hours, and was said to make it clear to them that their nonresponse in Boston was unacceptable. The next day, on local radio station WGR, Ruff said, “There are situations inside of a game that call for a lack of discipline and this was one of them.’’

Does tonight present another of those situations? Perhaps, although such cases of anticipated revenge often prove to be far more hype than hurt. Bruins fans well remember how the Bruins didn’t react to Matt Cooke’s vicious check to Marc Savard’s head in Pittsburgh on March 7, 2010. Eleven days went by before Shawn Thornton finally pummeled Cooke in a fight at the Garden. Outcome: a 3-0 Penguins victory.

“To be honest, I don’t know,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, informed that Lucic had said he expected someone from the Sabres to confront him tonight. “We’re not looking for revenge.’’

Later, Julien added, “We handled teams that have tried to push us around. We’re not going to lose any sleep over it.’’

Ditto for Lucic. Through the years, many NHLers who have been cast as fighters have noted the angst inherent in the job. It’s not something they typically discuss during their careers, but often in retirement they disclose the mental wear and tear that comes with engaging in the sweet science. Lucic doesn’t sound as if he’ll ever fret about it.

“Never in my whole life,’’ said Lucic, noting how he grew up accustomed to fighting, be it with his two brothers or when taking boxing lessons as a teen in Vancouver. “I never lost sleep about it, or ever gone to a game shaking about it. From my point of view, I’ve always enjoyed it.’’

Such a mind-set could be due, in large part, to Lucic’s bountiful strength and skill for the fight game. When enraged, he is among the game’s most ferocious and feared brawlers. If someone were to take him on tonight simply to fulfill Ruff’s wishes, it’s likely that Lucic would punch through the battle in perfunctory, if not courteous, fashion.

But if he were first to be taunted, or nailed with a cheap shot or questionable check, it could trigger Lucic’s lunatic fringe.

Opponents around the league are well aware of the hurt he can inflict. Why did none of the Sabres come after him over the 43:12 that remained in that game in Boston? Most likely because none of them preferred being shipped home as Causeway pate.

“He’s a specimen,’’ said Thornton, another of the game’s feared combatants. “Not many like him. He can score 30 goals and he’s as tough as anyone in the league.’’

We’ll find out this evening if the red rain comes pouring down. For one night, will old-time hockey return to the new NHL?

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.

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