Lucic was en route to New York City from Boston when Head Coach Claude Julien addressed reporters at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday morning. The forward missed Tuesday's practice with the flu and did not travel with the team, instead staying back as he battled the flu.
"He’s on his way, he’s feeling better," Julien said. "So I guess projected right now that he will play tonight, if he’s on his way."
Lucic's centerman was glad to hear the news.
"It’s exciting, you don’t want to miss a guy like that; he’s a big part of the team," said David Krejci. "So definitely good news and can’t wait to play with him tonight."
That's positive news all around for the Bruins, who have mentioned to keep a healthy lineup amidst their recent stretch of success, winning eight of their past 10 games.
"We’re definitely going in the right direction," said Krejci. "We’re not where we want to be yet, but heading there, so got to keep the foot on the gas and just keep winning hockey games."
Despite consistently producing points, the Bruins can take a look at the standings and see themselves in the second Wild Card spot for a playoff position. The Washington Capitals jumped them by a point with a 4-0 win over the LA Kings.
Both the Capitals and Rangers have 62 points. Boston has 61. The real battle for the Bruins moving forward will be catching the three teams above them in the Atlantic Division - Detroit (67), Montreal (67) and Tampa Bay (69). Their matchup with the Rangers on Wednesday kicks off a string of three games against Eastern Conference opponents, including a tilt against Montreal on Sunday.
But, first things first.
"I think at this point we’re just going out there and taking it game by game," said Krejci, keeping his focus on the Blueshirts. "That’s what’s been working so far."
"We have the Rangers tonight — we know it’s going to be a tough challenge — but we’re ready, so we need those two points."
The Bruins don't have much control over the opponents above them, except in head-to-head matchups. The best they can do it keep pushing ahead, and not let any sense of complacency creep in.
"I don’t think we’re happy where we are," Julien said before the team jetted off to New York. It’s unfortunate we’re there, but we can move up — that’s great. I think the fact that we had a tough start, we should at least have a good second half and hopefully carry it into a playoff position and into the playoffs. There’s a lot here that even as a team, we know we want to get better at."
"You win some games, and you look at things afterward, and you say, well our goalie bailed us out there, or our player made a great play — otherwise we could’ve been in trouble. Or this guy here, we didn’t have the layers. So there’s always something to work on and improve as a team, and that’s our job — to make sure the guys know that we want to get better, and they’re certainly open to that idea, of getting better, because they know we can be."
B's Expect Another Tight Tilt
The Bruins earned a 3-0 shutout of New York the last time the teams faced off on Jan. 15 in Boston. With the Rangers' speed and skill, it will be important to clamp down defensively again, with strong play between the pipes from Tuukka Rask.
"I think the biggest thing about these guys is keeping the puck away from their forwards any time you’re at the lines," said Craig Cunningham. "Whether you want to get the puck out of your zone or into their zone — and minimize your turnovers. The guys they have over there have so much speed. If you turn the puck over, they’re going the other way."
Though the Black and Gold came away with the win last time, the Rangers didn't have any shortage of opportunities, especially off the rush and because of odd-man situations.
The B's have gained some momentum in their play since then.
"I think we’re getting back to playing our system. We’re playing North-South hockey, and we’re tough to defend," said Cunningham. "We’ve got some good forwards that are really good down low on the puck and really hard on it, and our D have been keeping pucks alive and we’ve been playing a lot more in the offensive zone and minimizing turnovers."
The Rangers may have speed, but they also play a physical game like Boston. The night should be a grind.
"To me, goaltending is pretty strong, defense is pretty strong," said Julien, when asked to compare his squad with the Rangers. "Up front, I think they’ve got some good skill, I find that they’ve got some real good pep."
"But at the same time, I think we’ve got some strengths that maybe match up well against that as well, so we may not have the same speed on the attack, but we still have a pretty good structure that helps us still be good on the attack and score some goals."
"We’ve played each other now for a while," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "You get used to seeing the same faces, and they’re a big-bodied team. They like to play hard and get in on the forecheck, and we’re ready for that.
"Have got to set the pace for ourselves, for sure, at home here, and use some of the energy from the crowd and get some physical play out of our team as well and go from there."
No Lundqvist for Rangers
For the second time this season, the Bruins won't be facing Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers goalie is out with an upper-body injury after getting hit in the throat by a puck against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
Cam Talbot will be between the pipes.
Does that change the Bruins' approach?
"No, we never change our game plan based on a goalie," said Julien. "You always want net-front presence, you always want to get shots on net, so it doesn’t matter who’s in. Sometimes it’s harder one against another, but I know Talbot’s been a real good goaltender for them, and I’ve seen him since last year, and he’s a pretty solid guy. So I don’t think there’s any reason for us to let our guard down."
"[Lundqvist] didn’t play against us in Boston as well, so nothing should change," Krejci echoed. "Our game plan is five against five."
"Obviously he’s one of the best goaltenders, but it is what it is. If he’s not in the lineup, then we have to make sure we still create some traffic in front of the other goalie, and what he doesn’t see, he can’t stop."
Projected Lineup vs. Rangers Feb. 4
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Reilly Smith
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Loui Eriksson
Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - David Pastrnak
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Craig Cunningham
Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg - Adam McQuaid
Torey Krug - Kevan Miller
Starter: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Malcolm Subban
Scratches: Jordan Caron, Matt Bartkowski