Lucic settles a score and Bruins capitalize
WASHINGTON — The assist came in the first period, a chip from the defensive zone that led to a two-on-one rush for his linemates. The goal came later in the first, when he gained net-front position and shoveled in the rebound of a Johnny Boychuk wrister.
Then in the third, to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick, the fight just happened, said Milan Lucic.
Maybe by coincidence, or maybe not, it turned out that his combatant was a guy he’d been itching to visit.
At 9:23 of the third period, with the Bruins leading by two goals, Lucic tangled with John Erskine. Three years ago, the hard-nosed Washington defenseman had given Lucic, then a rookie on a string of impressive fights, his most thorough beating.
Last night, in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the high-flying Capitals, Lucic fared much better, landing his share of shots.
“When it goes the way it did, it’s always in the back of your mind,’’ Lucic said of the one-sided square-off from 2007-08. “You don’t really go looking for them. It just happens when it happens.
“He plays hard. He plays physical. Like me, I have to play hard and play physical. That’s the way I’m going to play. When two forces come together, they’re not going to back down from one another. That’s what happened.’’
In 2007-08, when Lucic scored a goal, recorded an assist, and fought Los Angeles heavyweight Raitis Ivanans for his first career Gordie Howe hat trick, the 19-year-old was most proud of his fight. Last night, the scrap with Erskine was just a cherry on top of the skill and hard-hat work Lucic showed on the first two components of the accomplishment.
In the first period, Lucic initiated the sequence that led to his club’s opening goal. After Zdeno Chara got the puck to Lucic at the defensive blue line, the left wing felt the pressure that Washington’s defensemen were applying. Lucic, reading that the D-men would be rushing one way, wanted the puck to go in the other direction.
“Washington’s a team that pinches a lot,’’ Lucic said. “I think there were two or three guys that came at me. Z made a good play down low. He almost ran into [Dennis Seidenberg].
“He made a good play and put it on my tape. I knew I just had to chip it by everyone and it was going to be a two-on-one. That’s what happened.’’
Nathan Horton received Lucic’s pass and broke off with David Krejci for a two-on-one against Tyler Sloan. Horton, screaming down the right wing, flipped a pass to Krejci, who buried the puck for his first goal at 9:12 of the opening period.
“Just tried to drive the net and have the stick on the ice,’’ Krejci said. “I was ready for whatever Horts was going to do. If he was going to shoot, I would get the rebound. He made a great play and I had an easy empty-netter.’’
Less than three minutes later, Lucic and Krejci struck again. Krejci fished the puck off the left-side boards and spotted Boychuk open at the right point.
“We’ve been practicing defensemen joining the rush, and that’s what happened,’’ Krejci said. “The defensemen have been much better this year joining the rush. I just pulled up and saw Johnny standing there. I hit him and hoped for the best — that he’d get a shot through.’’
Instead of ripping off his signature slapper, Boychuk converged on Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth, who forced him wide right. Neuvirth got a piece of Boychuk’s shot. But Lucic, who had been standing in front, outmuscled Jeff Schultz and tapped a close-range rebound into the net at 11:57.
Less than a minute later, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau pulled Neuvirth (flu-like symptoms) and replaced him with Semyon Varlamov.
It turned out to be all the offense Tim Thomas (35 saves) needed.
Thomas, making his third straight start, didn’t have to make as many Grade A stops as he did against New Jersey Saturday. But Thomas, playing his usual aggressive style, attacked every shot that came his way.
At the same time, with Chara and Boychuk usually matched against Alex Ovechkin (five shots), the Bruins kept the Washington captain off the scoresheet for the first time this season.
The only defensive blip came in the second period. Matt Hunwick, who had been struggling throughout the game, made his biggest error. As Hunwick retreated toward his net, he tried to chip the puck out of the zone. Instead, the puck glanced off a forechecking Matt Hendricks, which led to Marcus Johansson getting an in-front chance. Johansson tucked the puck behind Thomas at 7:42.
But Hunwick redeemed himself in the third when his long-distance floater wobbled through traffic and beat Varlamov (13 saves) at 2:08.
“It was a tough night for him at times,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “For him to score that goal, it was good for his confidence. You feel good about seeing him get a break there. I thought after he scored that goal, he seemed to settle down a bit and played better.’’
Tomorrow, the Bruins finally debut at TD Garden, in a rematch against the Capitals. So far, however, life on the road has agreed with the Bruins.