MONTREAL – Milan Lucic opted to take the high road on his suspension.
There were no complaints and no appeals from the rugged winger as he sat out Game 3 of Boston Bruins’ Eastern Conference playoff series versus the Montreal Canadiens on Monday
The verdict of a one game ban for a cross-check to Maxim Lapierre’s head during Saturday’s 5-1 win was announced Sunday night by NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell for what he called a “reckless and forceful blow to the head of his opponent.”
The 20-year-old Lucic, who has been inside the Canadiens’ heads all season for his bruising checks and battling style, didn’t argue the call.
“It wasn’t intentional at all,” Lucic said after skating with his teammates Monday morning at the Bell Centre “It was me and (Mathieu) Schneider who were going at it and nothing was going to come from it.
“He stuck me, I stuck him back and after Lapierre came flying in from the side it was just a defensive move and my hand got up. Unfortunately, my stick was in my hand. From what I know, it was my right hand that hit him in the face.”
What replays show is a cross-check that glanced off Lapierre’s shoulder and caught him on the side of the head, but either way, Campbell made his ruling and the Bruins won’t contest it.
“You’ve got to respect his decision,” added Lucic. “He’s got one of the hardest jobs in hockey, so he made the decision he felt was right.
“I’m a little disappointed with myself because I think our team has done a really good job of being disciplined in this series. That’s the biggest thing I can take out of this – you learn from this. It’s the playoffs and you can’t do things like that to jeopardize your team.”
Byron Bitz, who at six-foot-three and 200 pounds is the same height and only 20 pounds lighter than Lucic, was to move into the lineup on the fourth line, while six-foot-five Blake Wheeler took Lucic’s spot on a unit with David Krejci and Michael Ryder.
But while the size is there, nothing can quite replace Lucic’s menacing presence, particularly against the rival Canadiens.
A year ago, while first-place Montreal struggled to beat Boston in a seven-game opening round playoff series, Lucic was constantly at it with Montreal defenceman Mike Komisarek.
It continued into this season, when a fight during a Bruins’ win in Boston in November put Komisarek out for 16 games with a shoulder injury.
Now the roles are reversed, with Boston the top seed and Montreal eighth, but Lucic did not let up on hammering Canadiens at every opportunity as the Bruins won the opening two games at home.
Boston gave Montreal only two power play opportunities in the opening game and only one – Lucic’s hit on Lapierre late in the third period – in Game 2. But both games had skirmishes at or near the end and Lucic was involved both times.
A fear is that the suspension might cause Lucic to let up on his aggressive play, making him less effective on the ice, but coach Claude Julien said this incident was a reflex play he can learn from for the future.
“Lucic uses his shoulders really well and sometimes when you’re a target, you have people coming at you from different directions,” said Boston coach Claude Julien. “He reacted.
“He’s a young player and if he learns from those kinds of things, then he’s taken a step forward.”
It is the second time Boston’s depth was tested in the series.
A day after Game 1, defenceman Matt Hunwick was taken to hospital to have his spleen removed. Veteran Shane Hnidy moved into his spot and scored a key goal for a 3-1 lead in the next game.
Then it was the turn of the 24-year-old Bitz, a Saskatoon native who was picked in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by Boston and who was to make his playoff debut. Bitz had four goals and three assists in 35 games for the Bruins this season.
“His size is certainly something that is a great asset because he’s strong along the walls and strong with the puck,” said Julien. “His skating has improved even from last year.
“He’s also capable, at times when his confidence was better, of being a productive player. He scored some nice goals for us and he’s also a physical player. He’s certainly the type of player our organization likes.”
Neither Lapierre nor Montreal coach Bob Gainey had any comment on the Lucic suspension.