- For years, Milan Lucic
has been the prototypical Bruin, a strong power-forward with punishing hits and fiery mitts, banging in 25-plus goals and banging out 100-plus penalty minutes in back-to-back seasons.
Only one other NHL player was able to do that in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
So, to see Lucic working through a difficult stretch in 2013, where he has three goals in his past 32 games, is tough to watch. On April 20 against Pittsburgh, the bruising forward was a healthy scratch, something foreign to the usual mainstay alongside David Krejci in the B's top-six.
"Well, it’s been a frustrating year, want to be better, got to be better and just got to do my best to try to work through this and it hasn’t really gone the way you want it to go," Lucic said, the day before being relegated to the press box for a game. "You've got to find ways and find little things to try to work your way through it and it’s definitely not going to be easy, so you got to get over the mental hump, I think right now that’s where it’s at."
"You just got to get over that process of thinking negatively and trying to think positively and hopefully you can turn things around."
Back in the lineup on Sunday in the B's 3-0 shutout of the Florida Panthers, Lucic only logged 12:54 but led the team with five hits and threw three shots on goal, and generated a prime scoring chance. Lucic hasn't been putting up the points like recent seasons, but the B's are 15-2-3 this year when the forward records at least a point.
"You can’t go from zero to 60 in one game. It’s just a matter of him doing some things a little bit better, which he did today," said Coach Julien, on Lucic's performance in the win over Florida. "We’ve got four more games here before the end of the season and hopefully he continues to take some positive strides."
"Anyone in this dressing room would tell you nobody likes sitting out of the lineup," said Lucic, on being a healthy scratch Saturday prior to getting back in the lineup Sunday, after Nathan Horton was deemed out day-to-day with an upper body injury.
"You want to do whatever you can to help contribute to this hockey club and kind of just having the chance to step back and watch from up top; it's a different game up there and you kind of go through your head the things that have made you successful in the past and that's how my thought process was sitting out, was thinking about, like I said, what made you successful in the past and what makes you such a great player."
"If that mindset is there and you focus on the little things like that, everything else tends to take care of itself."
For any athlete trying to get past a mental roadblock, it's about focusing on those little things to try and build up some level of confidence to build momentum.
"It’s not where it was two years ago, or last year. It’s almost back to where I was at year three where things are just not going the way that you want them to go," said Lucic, on his confidence level this season. "But you can’t just keep making excuses and saying all these things and pointing fingers. You got to try to work yourself through it and at times like this, if you get through it that kind of makes you stronger as a person and as a player and that’s where I’m at right now."
The frustration has been building for the forward, who also feels the outside pressure of not performing.
"You want to try to get through it to make you stronger because you want to contribute for your team, you want to contribute for your teammates, you want to contribute for the fans and the city," said Lucic. "And for myself, I’ve taken pride in trying to be a big part of this team and right now [it's tough] because you haven’t had that same effect that you know you can bring."
Back on September 15, 2012, when Lucic was re-signed by the Bruins, General Manager Peter Chiarelli said of the 6-foot-3, 228-pound bruising winger, "Milan is an important player...he’s hard to play against, big and strong, heavy on the puck. A lot of things I like."
"The bottom line is we’ve got a good group and we’ve got a group that can win, a group that can also added that day seven months ago, upon re-signing several cornerstones.
That player is still in the Black & Gold, proudly wearing the spoked-B, but he's searching long and hard to find his game, and has being doing so all season. While it's tough to watch, it's even tougher for the forward to play through.
There have been glimpses, like when he carried the entire tempo of the game in the Bruins' commanding 4-1 win over Washington at TD Garden, when he put up three assists, tying his career-high.
But now Lucic, with four games left in the regular season, is digging deep to try and flip the switch heading into the postseason, where he wants to help out his teammates the way he knows he can.
"You want to be a contributor to this hockey club and I've shown that I can be a big part of this hockey club, so as of right now, you're just trying to find something to build off to kind of get you going," he said.
"Sometimes, it's just a bounce and everything kind of just moves in the right direction. I remember three years ago in 2010, I wasn't playing my best hockey either, and it was Game Six against Buffalo where I made two plays that ended up in two goals and everything kind of turned around for myself and I ended up getting five goals in the next series against Philadelphia, even though we lost."
"It kind of moved things in the right direction and when I came back it was still in my head, I was feeling pretty good about myself," added Lucic. "Like I said, you hope it could be a bounce or even a hit or something like that that kind of sparks it because I know it's there, and you do whatever you can to bring it."
Before Lucic sat out for a game, Coach Julien verbalized how the forward might be able to benefit from watching from up top.
"He’s really trying to turn the corner but doesn’t seem to be able to. As a coach, you’re trying to help him through that stuff, but a big portion of it is going to have to come from him, obviously," Coach has said.
"We can support him and give him opportunities, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to step up there. And he knows he’s not. That’s not a secret."
"But we also know what he’s done for this team in the past and what he’s capable of doing. And you just got to hope that this player finds his game, because we’re going to need him."
"And somehow we got to hope that he finds that - we’re going to help him, but he’s got to help himself. I just want him to play his game."
Lucic, like his Coach, is hoping he can also get back to what has defined him as a Bruin.
"I know I can be a big part of the team so ultimately it all comes down to myself - there’s no one to blame but myself, he said.
"Right now it’s just getting that hunger and emotion back in the game and trying to figure out how to play with it again to where it was and where it can be at such a high level."
"I think if I figure that out, everything else will take care of itself."