WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins' loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round last May came at a cost even greater than the Presidents' Trophy winners not reaching their ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup championship.
Early in that game, forward Milan Lucic jammed his left wrist. A couple days later he was wearing a soft cast. After an MRI, it was determined he needed surgery, which took place in late May.
With Bruins players scheduled to report for physicals and off-ice testing at training camp Thursday, Lucic is encouraged by the progress he's made in his attempt to return from the injury. But he's still not at full strength.
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"It's getting better," Lucic said after the Bruins' last informal skate at Ristuccia Arena before the start of camp. "Obviously it was a long summer with it, having it be in a cast for 12 weeks. I feel like I've turned the corner on it the last week, week and a half. So that's obviously a positive. And I'm still working to get it up to 100 percent. And I'm just excited to be back here with everyone and getting things going. Camp is just around the corner."
Lucic, who's 26 and heading into the second year of a three-year contract with an annual salary cap charge of $6 million, bases most of his game on upper-body strength. With brute force and a deceptive shot he's exceeded 24 goals in each of the past three full NHL seasons. Last season he had 24 goals and 35 assists in 80 games and ranked 12th in the League with 240 hits. The rugged left wing stayed injury-free, missing only two games with the flu.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he had four goals and three assists in 12 games.
When on-ice activities begin at training camp Friday, some longtime teammates might be able to get away with more in battles with Lucic than in the past because his offseason workouts were affected by his injury.
"A lot. A lot as far as upper body goes. [The injury] impacted it everywhere," Lucic said. "I haven't been able to do a pushup until a week ago just because of it being right there on the joint. But still that's something you've got to work at with rehab and stuff like that. Like I said, it's gotten better over the last week. And you still have some time here before the season starts. So as camp goes along, you know you want to get your legs and everything underneath you. But you still have time to build your strength up until the season starts."
After two days of practice, the Bruins will play their black and gold scrimmage in Providence on Sunday. They open their preseason schedule Tuesday, Sept. 23 on the road against the Canadiens. Despite his desire to get into the thick of the action, Lucic doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize what he hopes will be a productive regular season by overdoing things in the preseason.
"A little bit," Lucic said about being limited at the start of camp. "Obviously just being cautious with it. You don't want to do anything to have any setbacks or anything like that. So I think the main thing is just to be smart about it. But it's turned the corner for the better as far as the rehab's gone. And I'm just working on trying to get my strength back in it and everything like that. So it's been a good last two weeks. And hopefully it can better and better as the month goes along."
The Bruins will need Lucic to find the form that made him a 30-goal scorer in 2010-11 based on how their roster is currently constituted. Forward Jarome Iginla, who shared the team goal lead with center Patrice Bergeron with 30 last season, left for the Colorado Avalanche as an unrestricted free agent. The Bruins didn't make any offseason moves to replace Iginla. They're hoping for an improved season from Loui Eriksson in his second year with the Bruins, more production from left wing Brad Marchand and more contributions from some younger players getting their first real crack at full-time NHL playing time.
But they need Lucic to be better as well, and he hopes that after surgery he can still be one of the premier power forwards around.
"I hope so. I mean every time you have surgery, it never really goes back to 100 percent, right," Lucic said. "But you hope you can get back to a point where you're feeling as good as before the surgery. For myself, just trying to get mentally healthy and get that out of the way, the mental part of it. You know that part of it is also a big part to overcome, as far as shooting and just pushing and all that type of stuff. … So it's a lot of hard work when you get injured, to rehab yourself to get to 100 percent. And that's your main is to try to get there."