A complete turnaround on winner
When he got the puck, the one he soon would drive home for the winning goal, Milan Lucic was skating in the wrong direction. Flyers goalie Brian Boucher was to his back, and Lucic, with but one goal all season on Causeway Street, was motoring up the slot in the opposite direction.
How fitting for a guy who has been desperate for a turnaround all season.
“My thought process there,’’ noted Lucic, shortly after smacking in the winning goal in Boston’s 3-2 win last night over the Flyers, “was just get it by the first defenseman with a quick turnaround shot. I didn’t have much time to do anything else. I figured if I could get it by the first defenseman, it had a chance to go in.’’
To get it there, Lucic pivoted to his right, an abrupt turn into the slot, and dropped the hammer on a low slapper near the top of the right-wing circle that beat Boucher to the stick side. Game all but over, save for the 2:57 that had a few harrowing moments, including a Danny Paille shot at an empty net in the closing seconds that didn’t go in, briefly sucking the air out of the sellout crowd of 17,565.
Lucic hasn’t been horrible this season, but he hasn’t been anywhere near the tower of glower and power that he was his first two seasons in Black and Gold. A broken finger and an ankle sprain deprived him of two critical tools — the finger cutting back on his fight game, the ankle diminishing his skating game.
The day before Game 6 of the first-round series against Buffalo, coach Claude Julien said Lucic just had “to get his head around things.’’ In other words, it was time for the big lug to start moving his feet, smacking people into the boards, getting back in touch with the inner beast that unexpectedly won him a spot on the Boston roster in his first training camp in September 2007.
Lucic was far more himself last night, even before the nifty dipsy-doodle in the slot, the quick half slap, the delightful dance amid the roar of the building. He finished with two shots and three hits, and linemates David Krejci and Miroslav Satan combined for 3 points.
Prior to making the shot, Lucic helped hold the zone with a big hit, and then fired through a forest that included Flyer blue liners Lukas Krajicek and Ryan Parent. Over the course of the season, Lucic scored nine times and only one was at the Garden. After awhile, what’s a guy to think of his chances when most of his shots, in fact all but one of his shots, didn’t get the job done?
“I think it was more relief than anything else,’’ said Lucic, dwelling on his sixth career postseason goal. “Yeah, relief, especially when it’s a game-winner like that. But still, there was time left.’’
Time to worry, but the anxiety was all for naught. The Flyers couldn’t rally, the goal stood up, and the Bruins, all skating in the right direction this postseason, were headed to Philly in need of only two wins to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1992.
“He’s gone through a couple of major injuries,’’ said Julien. “He’s struggled to find his groove. You hope maybe the way he played that shift will help him gain some confidence. Hopefully, it will be the Milan we want to see game in and game out.’’
That would be the Lucic who has his legs moving, with force and without hesitation. Far from being an elite skater, he is, without question, one of the game’s boldest skaters, with powerful, T-Rex sort of thrusts as he moves in on prey. When he’s got that “groove,’’ opposing defensemen make mistakes with the puck and opposing forwards keep their general practitioners on speed dial.
That would also be the Lucic who has both nostrils flaring, looking for battles along the boards and battles in the open forum, for anyone willing and ill-advised enough to take him on. Dance partners have been few, especially after Lucic pummeled former Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek into submission last season. And after requiring finger surgery this season, Lucic for awhile was under orders not to engage in the sweet science.
But these days, especially since teaming up on a line with Satan and Krejci, his legs look much better. If there is a fight to be had, he is there to have it. Slowly, and just at the right time, the Lucic mosaic of force and fight seems to be reassembling. Julien wanted his head in the game, and it’s beginning to look like the rest of the anatomy is along for the ride.
“Turning like that puts a lot of torque on the ankle,’’ said Lucic. “I just wanted to get it on net, and luckily it found a hole.’’
Game 3 is tomorrow night in Philadelphia. Lucic no doubt will be paired with Krejci and Satan. It looks like he’s finally turning around a season that too often looked headed nowhere.
“I knew I had to step up my game,’’ said Lucic, “to start to contribute more to the success of the team. If I do that, I can be a more effective player, for sure.’’