BOSTON -- Even during the longest goal drought since Milan Lucic's second season in the NHL, he found it easier to get away from the pressures of the game off the ice than in years past because of a big change that happened at home.
In January, his first child, Valentina, was born.
"It definitely makes it better when you go home and you see someone like that," Lucic said. "You can be in the worst mood, but when you see your child and you see them happy and that type of stuff, it kind of takes your mind off things. It's definitely put things in great perspective."
Before the Boston Bruins forward beat James Reimer with a forehand through the five-hole Monday night in a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lucic hadn't scored in 15 games. The goal was his fifth of the season in 30 games after he scored 26 last season and a career-best 30 the season before. A season that started with so much promise, with the lockout ending and his wife Brittany giving birth within a few days, has been a struggle ever since Lucic started with two goals in the first three games.
With 10 goals in 30 career games against Montreal, Lucic will try to build off his outing Monday when the Bruins welcome the Canadiens to TD Garden on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in a battle for first place in the Northeast Division.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward has always relied on a large support system to get him through tough times. He said over the years he's leaned on his parents, agent, wife and even former teammates like Glen Murray to help guide him out of slumps. He has just one rule for anyone he taps for advice.
"The thing that I've always kind of asked for or said is, 'Give me something positive to think about,' like positive feedback to get your mind off the negativity and stuff like that. So that's mostly it," he explained.
The Bruins' coaching staff also has its ways of dealing with Lucic when he's not playing his best. In his first couple years in the NHL, Lucic would find himself skating as the left wing on the fourth line when coach Claude Julien needed his bulky power forward to get back to playing a straight-ahead, physical game. This time around, Julien tried to deliver the same message to Lucic, but he aligned him with Rich Peverley and Jordan Caron.
The move was part of a lineup-wide shakeup to get the Bruins' offense out of a funk that saw the team score six goals on a recent four-game road trip. It paid off for Lucic, whose goal against the Maple Leafs started a comeback from 2-0 down in a shootout victory.
Julien has been Lucic's only NHL coach since the second-round pick from 2006 cracked the NHL roster as a 19-year-old straight out of the Western Hockey League. The coach often talks about his sympathy for opposing defensemen when Lucic is playing his best and forechecking with reckless abandon. And Julien knows that everything positive for Lucic starts with the forward moving his feet on the ice.
"With Milan, it's all about his feet," Julien said. "When his feet are moving and when he uses his speed … either he's going to get those [offensive] chances or create some power plays for us, by getting them to drag him down. But he's big, he's strong, and when he uses his speed he's certainly that much more of a player."
The Lucic family has hired extra help with the baby to make sure Milan gets the required rest every night before a game. That's one of the perks of playing at the sport's highest level, and producing enough to earn a three-year contract extension worth $6 million per season that kicks in next year.
Lucic doesn't believe in excuses any more than he believes in taking it easy on an opponent in the corner. He knows that to turn this season into one that better reflects his skills and salary, he has to remain positive and play to his strengths.
"Well, you just want to try to get yourself back into the flow of things," Lucic said about his approach to turning things around. "There's times and situations where things aren't necessarily going to go the best for you. But that's when you truly get tested, and you hope that when you get out of them you come out of it stronger and you learn from it. I think there's definitely lots to build off and hopefully you get your game going to where you want it to be to finish out the season and head into the playoffs."
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