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Lucic reacquainted with net

His postseason drought ends with pair of strikes

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By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / May 7, 2011

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Fourteen Bruins had scored during the first 10 games of the postseason. Curiously, Milan Lucic, who had a team-high 30 strikes in the regular season, wasn’t among them.

He picked a nice time to join the party.

Lucic opened the scoring in last night’s 5-1 clincher, then all but iced the game with a third-period goal, putting an electric and emphatic end to an efficient four-game sweep of the Flyers that sends the Bruins to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992. For those questioning when the team’s leading scorer would decide to show up, he gave two loud answers.

Counting the regular season, Lucic had gone 20 games without a goal, his longest drought of the season. It was a number he was well aware of.

“It’s been kind of frustrating the last 20 games not being able to put the puck in the back of the net, but tonight I was able to get open, and when I got those opportunities . . . I was able to step up and score big goals,’’ Lucic said. “Regardless of the two goals, this is a huge win for our hockey club. The last three years we’ve been looking for this eighth win in the playoffs to get into the third round, and we’re happy we were able to get the job done.’’

Lucic ended his slump on the same night the Bruins ended all the discussion, once and for all, about losing a 3-0 series lead in the same round to the same team a year ago. After dropping the first two games of the opening series to Montreal, the Bruins have gone 8-1, outscoring the Canadiens and Flyers in that span, 36-19.

The first seven victories were delivered with minimal contributions from Lucic, who had but three assists in that stretch. He was putting pucks on net (22 playoff shots heading into last night), but hadn’t been able to sneak one through.

Lucic’s self-imposed pressure continued to build, a fact not lost on his teammates.

“He’s a persistent guy. We knew it was just a matter of time before they started going in,’’ said Brad Marchand. “You can’t keep him off the scoreboard, he’s such a great player. It was great that he was able to step up tonight.’’

Both of Lucic’s goals were set up by Nathan Horton, the first bringing the Bruins a rare power-play goal. With the Flyers’ Daniel Carcillo serving a two-minute penalty for cross-checking Gregory Campbell, Lucic was on the back end of two perfect passes. The first was from David Krejci to Horton, who was positioned to the right of Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Horton then flicked a pass across the crease to Lucic, who buried the feed into an open net at 12:02 for the first period.

“It was a great feeling, once I scored that goal, just to get the monkey off the back and get that lead,’’ Lucic said. “It’s obviously exciting, it’s the second round of the playoffs, a chance to close them out. It was a goal that moved us one step closer to moving on to the next round.’’

The way Tim Thomas has played lately, the slimmest of leads might hold up. But with the Bruins clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the third period, Lucic gave his netminder breathing room.

Again taking a crisp pass from Horton — this time a no-look backhander from just beyond the blue line — Lucic was sent in alone on Bobrovsky before slipping the puck between his pads for a 3-1 lead with 4:57 left. Two empty-net goals served as exclamation points.

The two-goal game allowed Lucic to slip into the ill-fitting jacket that has come to symbolize the Bruins’ player of the game, an honor he hadn’t received since March 22, when he scored his 30th goal of the season. Until last night, that had been his most recent goal, a staggering scoreless streak.

If the Bruins are to beat Tampa Bay — coming off a similarly dominant sweep of the top-seeded Capitals — they’ll likely need the Lucic that thrilled the Garden crowd. It had been long overdue.

“There was a time when I was really frustrated, but [my teammates] told me, ‘It’s going to come, it’s going to come,’ ’’ Lucic said. “Moving forward, you want to keep pushing for more.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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