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An experienced hand

Posted by Danny Picard October 30, 2008 05:54 AM

Sitting in front of his locker after the Bruins’ first home win of the season, veteran Stephane Yelle watched the media hover around second-year forward Milan Lucic across the room. It was Lucic’s night, for sure. Three goals and an assist, including the game-winning score with just 1:41 to play in regulation, gave him rights to the game puck.

But a fire starts with an initial spark, and Yelle provided that spark for the Bruins in Saturday night’s 5-4 win over Atlanta.

In the third home game of the season, and the last before three consecutive games in western Canada, the Bruins found themselves trailing, 2-0, heading into the second period.

“I don’t think it was so much the game plan, to be honest with you,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien of a first period in which his team allowed two power-play goals and was outshot, 16-7. “I think the adjustment had to come from the players. Anybody who watched the game saw a different group of guys after the first period.”

The fourth line of Petteri Nokelainen, Yelle, and Shawn Thornton had combined for zero points through the first seven games of the regular season, but it was their work on a goal just 3:37 into the second period that ignited a Bruins comeback.

Yelle battled in front of the net and tipped a Thornton slap shot from the right point that dipped down and through the legs of Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg, making it a 2-1 game. It was
Yelle’s first goal as a member of the Bruins.

“It feels good,” said Yelle. “You always want to get the first one under your belt. You start counting games. Seven games in, and you start pressing.”

Yelle, 34, was signed in September after spending the last five seasons in Calgary and the previous seven in Colorado. He’s been a member of two Stanley Cup championship teams, with Colorado in 1996 and 2001. In his 12 NHL seasons, Yelle has missed the playoffs only once, his first year with Calgary, in 2002-03.

He won’t put up huge numbers. He won’t dazzle you with his moves. But his two championship rings and 154 games of NHL playoff experience are enough to make Yelle a vital part of an inexperienced team.

“It’s been fun,” said Yelle. “There’s a lot of young legs, but there’s a lot of excitement. Sometimes you forget how fun the game is. And when those young guys come in, a guy like [Lucic] always has a big smile on his face. He lights up the room.”

Yelle was brought to Boston to improve a penalty kill that finished last season ranked 28th in the NHL (out of 30) with a 78.6 percent kill percentage. The Bruins entered their latest three-game road trip with the worst penalty kill in the league (68.6 percent).

“It’s very frustrating because we can definitely be better,” said Julien of his penalty-killing unit. “It starts with our goaltenders. They have to be our best penalty killers. And this is not pointing the finger because there are also guys who can be jumping on the puck a lot quicker.”
After eight games, Yelle’s contributions haven’t jumped off the score sheet, but his first goal of the season stood out.

“The one thing we’ve been trying to get this year is an energy line, fourth line, whatever you want to call it, that could help contribute as well as give you energy,” said Julien.

“And they scored a big goal to get us going. It gave us the spark that we needed.”

I can see clearly now
He still squints, but that’s just a bad habit. It has nothing to do with Lucic’s eyesight anymore.
The Atlanta game marked the second straight the 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger played while wearing contact lenses. Lucic has worn glasses for three years now, but mostly when he’s watching television.

“All the guys were on me that I was squinting too much,” said Lucic. “They got sick of me squinting, so they forced me to go get some contacts.”

And they’re working. Lucic scored his first career hat trick on Saturday. This isn’t his first stint with contacts, however. Lucic had tried using them four years ago.

“It’s a lot easier to see the puck out there when your vision is clear,” said Lucic. “It’s like going from an old TV to a high-definition TV.”

Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at dpicard@globe.com

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