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Northeast: Warning: Lucic is back, very cranky

by James Murphy
Forgive Milan Lucic if he decides to take out some frustration on an unsuspecting opposing defenseman.

The Bruins' rugged forward is one cranky fellow lately. It's not necessarily a product of his trademark mean streak, but rather his daily life being turned upside-down due to the fact he has been battling injuries all season and not regularly playing and practicing with his teammates.

After missing 14 games with a broken thumb from Oct. 17 to Nov. 19, and then missing another 18 games from Nov. 27 to Jan. 7, Lucic is hoping he can get back into the normal routine and schedule he is accustomed to as an NHL player.

"You are so set in the routines of your team schedule -- naps, sleep, meals -- it all gets out of whack when you're hurt and not with the team every day," Lucic said. "So yeah, that's been a huge plus lately, being able to travel with the guys and practice with them."

Lucic will play in just his 13th game of the season when the Bruins play at Anaheim on Wednesday night, starting a three-game West Coast swing that takes them through San Jose and Los Angeles, as well. Lucic admitted that right now his timing is off and he is trying to get back to mid-season form game-by-game.

"I know I came back for four games after the broken finger, but it feels like I haven't played since October," Lucic said Monday. "It's going to take time and I have to stay confident and not get too down on myself when I make mistakes, because mistakes do happen when you come back from an injury like this. So, again, I need to stay positive, keep it simple and my game will come back to where I want it to be."

Connolly staying healthy -- Plagued by injuries through most of his career, Tim Connolly and his pure skill sadly have been overshadowed and at times forgotten. He was hardly mentioned as a candidate for the recently named USA Olympic squad that will compete in Vancouver next month. But Connolly, set to play in his career-high 85th straight game Saturday, is leading the Sabres in scoring with 37 points this season, and his talents have been hard to ignore lately as he is in the midst of a nine-game point streak.

"His game has gotten a lot better the last couple of weeks, and that might be the confidence of being in on a nightly basis and not getting injured," coach Lindy Ruff recently told the Buffalo News.

For Connolly, the key to that confidence and success has been blocking out his injury-riddled past.

"It's not something I really even think about," Connolly said. "I just go out there one game at a time and try to do what I can to help this team win at both ends of the rink and on special teams."

As for the Olympic snub, Connolly shrugged it off, saying he can cheer for teammate Ryan Miller.

"They had tough decisions to make," Connolly said. "There's a lot of good players out there, and you've got to build a proper team that they wanted to build. They decided not to take me, and that's all right. I'll cheer Ryan Miller now."

Markov can 'C' future -- When the Canadiens entered this season with three alternate captains (Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta and Hal Gill), the belief was Markov would not accept the captain's 'C.' Markov always has been quiet and reserved and not necessarily keen to being the go-to-guy for the media. But recently, the Russian defenseman has hinted that he may have changed his mind about possibly becoming the 28th captain in Habs history.

"Nobody's asked me about it," Markov told the Montreal Gazette, "but if they did, I'd think about it. ... It's a big responsibility to be captain in this city. I enjoy every day on our team and just try to do my job. This is not my first year and I feel more comfortable by the day."

The Habs got some troubling injury news last week when they learned they would be missing forward Andrei Kostitsyn for six weeks after he had knee surgery. Kostitsyn was second on the team in goals with 12, and as coach Jacques Martin pointed out, other players will need to step up and so far they have been doing so.

"Of course we miss an established player on that line," Martin said. "Before Kostitsyn's injury, we were able to count on two threatening lines. But the way Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot are playing -- it's more difficult for the opposition to concentrate on just one line."

Behind closed doors -- The Senators rode a four-game losing streak into their game with the Thrashers on Tuesday night, and following their last game -- a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday -- the players apparently had enough. They held a closed-door meeting to try to get to the root of the problem. Coach Cory Clouston is happy his players are taking the initiative and trying to hold themselves accountable.

"The meeting is great; it shows the guys care," Clouston told the Ottawa Sun.

"I don't know exactly what was said in there, but we need guys to step up and take a leadership role. It's one thing to say it, but you've got to follow through on it,” Clouston said following a one-hour practice Tuesday.

Clouston also was happy he didn't have to issue another tongue-lashing to his underachieving team.

"To me, that's what integrity is all about. You've got to practice what you preach. (They) don't want to hear my voice all the time. The veterans have to take ownership of the team and of the dressing room. Guys have to step up, either by what they say or by their actions and following what they say. To me, words mean nothing. You have to go out and do it. That's the most important thing."

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