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Milan Lucic Powers Bruins' Killer Instinct in Win Over Florida

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON - Milan Lucic sent the TD Garden crowd into a frenzy of "Looooooch" as the winger serenaded them back with a fist pump.

With just 1:09 remaining in regulation on Tuesday night, he lifted the Bruins to a 3-2 lead over the Florida Panthers. The score stood, and the Black and Gold picked up a huge two points.

The victory kept the Bruins three points up on the Ottawa Senators in the standings, and six points ahead of the Panthers, who they face one more time in Sunrise next week.

"They put so much emphasis on this game and probably being the biggest game of their season, and we had to view it the same way," said Lucic. "Being down 2-1 going into the third, we had to have the same desperation and that mentality as they did, playing for your lives type of mentality."

The Bruins had earned a 1-0 lead late in the first, off Loui Eriksson's 20th goal of the season, but the Panthers struck twice in the second to go up 2-1 heading to the third. They had only lost three games in regulation all season when leading after 40 minutes. Boston handed them their fourth.

"You saw on the opening shift in the third period, we went right into the offensive zone and created a chance," said Lucic. "So we’re going to need more of that with five games left here."

"We’re going to have to play good hard, smart hockey and keep finding a way to get wins."

David Pastrnak tied the game at 2-2 at 9:47 into the second period. After Dennis Seidenberg chipped the puck up the boards in the defensive zone, Pastrnak sent the puck airborne over the Florida defense to Lucic racing in full steam ahead. Lucic drop passed to Ryan Spooner along the left wing boards, who quickly threw the puck on net with Pastnrak in front for the tip past Roberto Luongo.

It marked Pastrnak's 11th goal of the season, through 41 games.

"I had seen him on the side picking up some speed. You know, he's really fast, so my job was just to put it behind the D and he skated there well," said Pastrnak. "I just went right to the net and somehow it went in."

"Once he got his feet going, the whole line just kind of changed," Head Coach Claude Julien said of Lucic. "And that’s the kind of difference he can make."

In the Bruins' last outing at home, Lucic scored the first two goals of the game en route to a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers. Boston hasn't lost since, winning three straight to keep their postseason hopes alive. He led the way again, for his line and the team, on both tying goal and the important game-winner.

After Spooner regained the line from the offensive zone, Lucic powered in, drawing all five Panthers to the high slot and fired a low, hard shot that beat Luongo five-hole.

"He is capable of scoring goals like that when he moves his feet," said Julien. "I continue to say that he has done a great job with those two young guys. That line has probably been our most productive line in the month of March."

"He has kept saying over the years that he wants to be a part of that leadership group and he’s just showing right now that he’s very capable of doing it."

Lucic, Spooner and Pastrnak combined for 37 points in March off 16 goals and 21 assists.

"Just trying to enjoy it and trying to have fun with it," said Lucic of leading the way for the 23-year-old Spooner and 18-year-old Pastrnak. "You see they’re having a lot of fun, just trying to have that youthful fun like I had when I was there age. It’s become contagious between the three of us."

While the trio has had its oft-talked about troubles in the defensive zone, it has been improving. Julien tried to keep them away from Florida's top line of Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov.

"It’s not because you don’t trust them, it’s just the lack of experience," said Julien. "Now I’m a little bit more flexible because they are getting better and they are getting more experience and you can utilize them that way."

"We’re supporting each other well, we’re coming up the ice together well, we’re finding each other, and we’re also getting some puck luck as well," said Lucic. "I think that’s also a big part of it, but you know, when you’re working the right way and putting the work in, you tend to get luck on your side. We’ve just got to keep it going."

While the Bruins will need everyone going down the stretch for the final five games of the regular season, Lucic and his linemates are helping the cause.

"We’ve had some games where we haven’t really played to the best that we can and [Lucic] always just says to us, 'we've just got to to keep at it,'" said Spooner.

The Bruins knew it would be a battle against the Panthers, heading into the matchup with just a four-point edge over the visitors.

"Well, I don’t think you should be breathing easy and I don’t think anybody in there has been breathing easy," Julien had said prior to the game. "We know where we’re at, we know what we have to do here. We just have to stay with the task at hand here and keep focusing on what we need to do."

The Bruins had a strong start on home ice, with Reilly Smith, Spooner, Pastrnak and Torey Krug notably showing jump. Krug hit a post, and then David Krejci found iron on a man advantage, before Eriksson was able to break through late in the period during four-on-four action.

Carl Soderberg won a draw back to Torey Krug, who slipped the puck through a Panther's legs to get the puck down low. With Soderberg forechecking, he got his stick on the puck to tip it to Eriksson, who got himself behind the Florida defense to go one-on-one with Luongo.

Eriksson waited, waited, and roofed a tough angle backhander from the goal line over a down-and-out Luongo, giving a fist bump as he skated to his teammates. It gave Eriksson the fifth 20-goal season of his career.

"It's been awhile since I've been up there, so for sure, it was nice, especially to score the goal and win the game for sure," said Eriksson.

Tuukka Rask, making his 65th appearance between the pipes, had to be sharp, though he didn't feel he faced too many Grade-A chances early.

The second period was a different story. A high-sticking penalty to Brad Marchand just 46 seconds into the second period put the Panthers on the power play.

Pirri sent a bomb through a Hayes screen just eight seconds into the man-up situation, beating Rask off the crossbar and in from the top of the circle. The Panthers stole momentum from the equalizer.

Florida went up 2-1 midway through the second after a bouncing puck went past Matt Barktowski and onto the stick of Brad Boyes, who beat Rask five-hole.

"Kind of frustrating," the netminder said of the mood after the second. "Again, just wondering what's going on out there, there's no emotion - we needed to find it, and we did."

"We wanted to get back to playing desperate and hungry hockey," said Lucic. "At this point in the season, you want to try to put together a full 60-minute effort, but at the end of the day, it’s nice that we were able to step up in the third and get a huge win and keep taking care of business."

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