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A long and winding path for Biller (10/31/95)

Saver takes time to savor Bruins' Billington stays on even keel despite ups and downs
Nancy L. Marrapese, Globe Staff

They are a contrast in style, personality and careers.

Blaine Lacher's job path is a straight line, from the NCAA title to a starting job in the National Hockey League. Craig Billington's resembles a pretzel, from Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League to New Jersey, Maine, Utica, New Jersey, Utica, the Canadian National Team, New Jersey, Ottawa and Boston. You get the picture.

Tonight, Billington will get his second straight start for the Bruins against the surging Montreal Canadiens. While the hard-working 29-year-old goalie vows to make the most of his time in net, he has paid careful attention to what's gone on with his partner, Lacher. As far as the two of them are concerned, there's no controversy in net.

They're supportive of each other, and while Billington has been the steadier of the two so far this season, Lacher is far from a forgotten man. Lacher admits his confidence level is a little lower than it should be, but Billington said he shouldn't worry. In fact, he had a bit of advice for his young counterpart.

"I don't like to be critical of the media but it's a good time not to be reading any papers or listening to anybody, because you know what you need to do better than anyone else," said Billington, the team's resident locker room philosopher. "You could listen to [assistant coach Cap Raeder] and maybe a player you trust, but you know best. He's had a tremendous amount of success, it's a matter of working through this time, taking one thing you want to work on a day and staying with that one."

The definition of tough times is different for Billington than for a lot of other goalies in the league. Too many times, he was on teams loaded with talented netminders and didn't get an opportunity. Other times, he had the opportunity, such as in Ottawa, but that came with its own kind of trying circumstances, a kind of NHL purgatory.

Billington acknowledges that this generation of players is different from the generation he came in with. The current crop seems to come into money and opportunity faster and faces its own set of career challenges. Either way, Billington maintains, there are going to be tough times. The trick is keeping them in perspective.

"It all starts with attitude," he said. "I know our job is to make the saves, but I think you have to keep it in perspective and understand that's part of a career. You can't get so singularly focused. There are going to be times when you don't feel that well or don't play that well and the team does so no one else notices. I've been on that side.

"Then there are going to be times in your career where you're not playing as well as you'd like but because of the circumstances or the way bounces go, it looks like you are. Everything balances out for those who work at their trade. So you have to keep it in perspective and you just have to keep working at your game."

Billington never tries to guess who's going to be in net. He used to but wound up being wrong most of the time and subsequently depressed. He expects Lacher will have plenty of chances to play and will rise to the occasion.

"I watch his game pretty close," he said. "He had an extremely successful season last year. I got to see him in the playoffs and he played as well as any goalie I've seen. He's got all the tools.

"He's going through a bit of a difficult time now and I don't even want to say that because the goals [Washington] got came within 3 feet of him except for the deflection. We as a team hadn't been playing particularly well.

"But I've been through that I don't know how many times. Believe me, you don't want to go down that path. But that's life, too. Life can be a struggle. There are good times and bad but the key is to grind through the tough ones, learn from them and be better for them."

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