BOSTON, MA – Milan Lucic looked mean and motivated on Thursday night. The big winger looked like he wanted to hit everything that moved during the Bruins 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.
That type of physical play – Lucic led the B’s with four hits (along with his linemate David Krejci) and fought Tampa defenseman Keith Aullie in the second period – was something that had been missing from No. 17’s game for much of the last two months, and eventually led to him being a healthy scratch for the first time since his rookie season last Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Lucic sat out just the one game, and since returning to the lineup he has tried to be more assertive and initiate more of the physicality that gets himself, his team, and the fans going.
“Playing with emotion has always worked for me, so it’s up to myself to get myself going, and kind of [tick] myself off before the game starts,” Lucic said with a smile postgame.
“I think it was good,” Lucic added, when asked if this was the best he had felt in a while. “There was a lot of talk about myself just getting in there more and kind of getting back to playing that game, that high energy game with a lot of emotion, a lot of fire, so it’s been my main focus these last three games.
“I’ve got to keep my focus in the last two [games] of the season and I know when I play like that and I’m physical and moving my feet, everything else tends to take care of itself, so I can’t lose touch of what made my game successful here tonight, and if you keep that up eventually you’re going to get rewarded.”
B’s Head Coach Claude Julien used a myriad of tactics to try and get Lucic going, saying he threw the toolbox at No. 17, before eventually deciding to make him a healthy scratch to try to motivate the power forward.
“Absolutely, we tried everything,” said Julien after the win. “But at the end of the day, it became Milan’s approach to it. You know, at one point a player kind of realizes, ‘you know listen, I’ve got to get myself going here, this is what they ask.’ At one point you have to think that one of those tools got his attention. And he’s become a good player again for us.
“I thought again tonight he did exactly what ignites our team and what ignites our fans. When he’s like that he’s at his best. So I certainly like the direction he’s taking, and if he keeps going that way we can’t ask for better timing.”
The highlight of Lucic’s night came late in the second period when he went in hard on the forecheck and leveled a huge hit on Aullie to the right of Tampa goalie Anders Lindback.
The two pushed and shoved before dropping the gloves. Lucic landed numerous punches on Aullie and eventually took him down to the ice.
“It’s one of those things that just kind of happened,” Lucic said of the fight. “So we were playing hard and playing physical. It’s just part of the game.”
Julien said that when Lucic is being physical it provides a spark for the rest of the team.
“Milan is know for that, he’s known for that when he’s at his best. He puts a lot of fear in other players on other teams just with his forecheck and finishing his checks at the end of that,” Julien explained.
“There’s no doubt our guys will feed off that kind of stuff. It doesn’t mean he has to go out there and fight every night, he just has to play hard the way he’s been doing lately and things are starting to come around for him.”
Shawn Thornton, one of the Black & Gold’s most physical players, doesn’t think Lucic is human when he starts hitting.
“He’s a big mutant,” said Thornton. “When he’s going, he’s unstoppable. He runs people over. He’s strong on the puck and he’s a very talented hockey player that makes plays, too. When he has that extra half second, that little bit of room that he creates for himself, he can really make some good things happen.
“The last few games, since he went back in the lineup, he’s been physical, playing his style of hockey. He’s working to be the player that everyone knows he can be.”
Lucic hopes with the postseason right around the corner, he can continue to build momentum and have his game back where it needs to be come playoff time.
“[Being physical is] an important part of my game,” added Lucic. “It’s a big part of what I bring to this hockey club, and I think from day one when I first got here that was the first thing that I established, and it kind of got away from me this year.
“That’s what I’m kind of hoping to bring back and if we can get some energy off that, that’s great, and that’s all I’m trying to do is do my best to help contribute to this hockey club any way I can.”