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Northeast: Lucic taking long-term view

by James Murphy /
Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic already has felt what it's like to skate in Fenway Park and he wants to do it again this Friday when the Bruins host the Flyers in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
But Lucic, who has been out since Nov. 25 with a high-ankle sprain, knows that if he wants to have an impact on the Bruins' season, he may have to settle for his Dec. 18 twirl on the Fenway Park rink with Bruins legends Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Terry O'Reilly and Cam Neely as his Winter Classic experience.
"It's been a tough road so far,"' Lucic told reporters after practicing for the first time since he sprained his ankle. "Just trying to stay positive and make sure I'm ready to go in the second half of the season to do anything I can to help contribute. A lot of people keep talking about the Winter Classic, the Winter Classic. The only answer I really have is that we can only take it day by day."
As Lucic said, it would be grand to play in the historic game at Fenway Friday, but it would be even better to make some history in the spring and help the Bruins win their first Stanley Cup since 1972. He didn't completely rule out a return for Friday, but it appears he will be needed more for the second half and isn't willing to sacrifice that for one game.
"I'm not going to force myself to get back and put myself in a position where I can get injured again and sit out for another four to six weeks. I think the best thing right now is to be smart and be ready for the second half. Most of all, be ready if we do get in the playoffs for the final stretch of the season.''
Halak forcing a controversy -- Carey Price (9-13-3, 2.75 GAA, .912 save percentage) hasn't exactly had a bad season, but the play of Jaroslav Halak (10-6-1, 2.56 GAA, .924 save percentage) has the Montreal fans and media thinking goalie controversy.
Halak was named NHL First Star of the Week Monday after recording three victories. He posted a 1.97 goals-against average and .959 save percentage over the stretch. Halak stopped at least 46 shots in each game, making 47, 46 and 47 saves, respectively, to pace the three wins.
During Montreal's recent four-game win streak, Halak stopped 180 of 186 shots. The Habs are grateful for Halak's excellence of late but they realize that they can't be allowing that many shots each game and fall back on his brilliance.
"The bad thing is that it seems to be working right now," Scott Gomez told the Montreal Gazette. "He's definitely in a zone right now. But we don't want to be doing that every night. It's just too many shots. He's played wonderful for us but we have to switch things around."
Slumping Stafford sits -- For the first time this season, the Buffalo Sabres scratched forward Drew Stafford for Sunday's win in St. Louis. Stafford had gone 15 games without a goal and coach Lindy Ruff felt it was time for Stafford to watch from the press box.
"He's had a tough run from a scoring standpoint," Ruff told the Buffalo News. "There hasn't been a lot of production. Sometimes if you sit a game, it helps. You get to watch and the next time you get in, you're even hungrier."
Stafford obviously didn't like sitting out, but agreed with the decision and tried to take a positive approach watching the game from above.
"I knew I had to be better," Stafford said. "For a few games there, I wasn't playing like how I need to play. It's definitely something I've had to deal with and make sure I'm putting the work in. Obviously [going to the press box] is not what you want to do for a solution but if that's what it takes, then so be it. I have to accept that."
After a 20-goal season last year, Ruff and the Sabres expected more from the North Dakota product and Ruff thinks maybe Stafford is second-guessing himself too much.
"I really just looked at his production," Ruff said. "Sometimes you try to do too much and over-handle [the puck]. We found situations where if he was just quicker to pull the trigger, he'd probably get the extra opportunity. I guess a player gets in a situation and second-guesses himself. Once you get inside that key area, you better think selfish because if you get inside there and you've got a chance to pull the trigger, I don't think there's any better play."
Pep talk pays off -- Ryan Shannon had yet to score in his first 29 games this season, but after a little Christmas pep talk from his uncle back in Connecticut, Shannon has scored in each of his last two games.
"Don't suck; keep it simple," is what Shannon told the Ottawa Sun his uncle preached to him at Christmas. Shannon heeded the advice and looks to have broken out of his season long slump.
"It was obviously the monkey on my back, the whole season," Shannon said. "It had been a long time since I scored. I had one goal in the pre-season, and there were times I thought I'd never score again. I was getting chances. When I was playing a lot, I was getting a lot of good chances. I had a couple of open nets, hit posts ... I just felt like I was snakebit."
White in Leafs' top four -- When Maple Leafs defenseman Ian White scored the game-winning goal with 1:22 left to help Toronto beat the Penguins, 4-3, Sunday night, he reached a point in his career he always knew he could reach, but struggled to find.

After sitting White for the first 11 games last season, coach Ron Wilson has been playing White as a top-four defenseman, despite the skepticism of fans and media but that goal is finally silencing his critics.

"Last year was the lowest point of my career. I have to admit, I was a little surprised at what happened. But I kept my head up." -- Leafs Ian White

"To be honest with you, this is where I thought I could be all along. This is where I thought I should play," White told the Toronto Sun. "Last year was the lowest point of my career. I have to admit, I was a little surprised at what happened. But I kept my head up."
While last season was a trying time, White is happy he had to earn the respect of his coach and teammates.
"Obviously I don't like getting handouts," White said. "You've got to earn everything you get. That's my philosophy."
Around the Northeast -- Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekara was named to the Slovakian Olympic squad Tuesday. ... Forward Brian Gionta (broken foot) returned to the Habs lineup Monday night for the first time since Nov. 12 and assisted on Benoit Pouliot's first goal as a Canadien. ... Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire is 2-1-0 since returning Dec. 23 and made 29 saves in the 4-2 win over the Canadiens Monday night. ... Daniel Alfredsson is out four to six weeks with a separated shoulder. ... Nick Foligno (knee) could return to the lineup on Wednesday night. ... Leafs forward John Mitchell, who has been on injured reserve with a knee injury since November, and forward Viktor Stalberg (upper body) are on the team's current road trip and could return soon.
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