Halfway through Saturday’s second period in Washington, the Bruins’ Milan Lucic took a breakout pass from David Krejci at the defensive blue line. Lucic settled the puck on his backhand, wound up his legs, and whirred through the neutral zone to trigger the attack.
Neither John Carlson nor John Erskine, the Capitals’ defensemen, was itching to get in Lucic’s way.
It was Lucic doing what he does best: using his size and speed to impact the game. Because of Lucic’s straight-line sprint through center ice, Carlson and Erskine had to retreat instead of keeping a tight gap with the forwards.
Once Lucic got rid of the puck to Rich Peverley, the left wing didn’t peel off or slam on the brakes. Lucic continued to drive toward the net. Carlson had no choice but to follow.
Peverley dished to Andrew Ference at the right point. Lucic’s net drive opened up a shooting lane for Ference. To complete the play, Lucic boxed out Carlson to prevent the defenseman from stepping in front of Ference’s shot. Ference wristed the puck past Braden Holtby to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead at 7:49 of the second period.
For Lucic, it was a well-earned assist.
“He was a real good player for us,” said coach Claude Julien following the 3-2 overtime loss. “Probably one of our better ones, especially up front. It’s nice to see him find his game. We’re looking forward to seeing that continue.”
The Bruins didn’t get the outcomes they wanted in their last two games. They dropped the regular-season finale to Ottawa, 4-2.
But the flickers of life that Lucic showed were, in the big picture, more important than wins.
Against the Senators, Lucic had one shot, three hits, and one assist in 17:00 of ice time. Lucic had the primary helper on Dennis Seidenberg’s tying goal.
In the first period, Lucic flattened Kyle Turris with a clean hit. Later in the first, Chris Neil came calling. Lucic obliged and the two engaged in a heavyweight bout. It was his second fight in the last three games.
In 16:28 of ice time against Washington, the power forward recorded one goal, one assist, four shots, and two hits. Lucic skated swiftly. He didn’t look to get rid of the puck once it landed on his blade. Lucic made assertive instead of passive decisions.
Lucic looked like a confident player. For too long this season, he could not say that of himself.
“I felt really good with the puck. I felt I made a lot of good plays,” Lucic said. “I felt like I was moving my feet. That’s been the main thing I’ve been focusing on these last couple of games. I want to keep building and building so it’s where it needs to be next week.”
Lucic is one of the team’s handful of difference-makers. He can change the game with a thunderclap of a check, a goal, or a fight. Lucic is closing out the regular season with the performances befitting his pedigree. On Thursday, in the Bruins’ 2-0 win over Tampa Bay, Lucic had four hits, one shot, and a throwdown with Keith Aulie. It was Lucic’s first fight since March 3, when he dropped the mitts with Montreal’s Brandon Prust.
It’s been just over a week since Lucic experienced one of his career indignities. On April 20 against Pittsburgh at TD Garden, he was a healthy scratch for only the second time in his NHL career. Lucic’s other benching took place his rookie season.
The banishment to the press box was deserved. Pucks skittered off Lucic’s stick. He couldn’t land any of his trademark checks because he was too slow to close on his opponents. Forget about scoring — before being scratched, Lucic had scored just two goals in his last 27 games.
The one-game sitdown seems to have played a part in Lucic’s turnaround. In the first period of Saturday’s loss, Lucic scored his seventh goal. After Krejci won an offensive-zone faceoff against Mike Ribeiro, the center pulled the puck back to Lucic. The left wing fired a shot that glanced off Karl Alzner’s skate and deflected past Holtby for the game’s opening goal.
Lucic may not find his peak level in the playoffs. He should be sharper after a committed offseason conditioning program and a full training camp. But the Bruins need Lucic to submit, at least, his physical presence. No defensemen like picking their teeth out of the glass after a Lucic slam.
Soderberg on bubble
Nathan Horton (upper body) missed his fifth straight game Sunday. Horton’s return for the start of the playoffs is not guaranteed.
If Horton can dress in the postseason, Carl Soderberg projects to be the odd man out. Horton would return to his usual position with Lucic and Krejci. Peverley would move down to the third line with Chris Kelly and Jaromir Jagr. Soderberg, who recently joined the club after playing in Sweden, would be the healthy scratch.Continued...