Cam Neely sat in the stands at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington recently and watched Milan Lucic and the Bruins practice. He was asked if he thought Lucic was back to normal yet after missing 30 games with a broken right index finger and then a high ankle sprain.
“He’s getting there,” the Hall of Famer said of the player many fans and media try to compare to Neely. “Once he starts skating, playing his game physical and stops thinking about it, that’s when you know he’s back.”
It may have taken a while, but Lucic finally came back in full force in Game 6 just in time to help his team to a 4-3 series-clinching win at TD Garden on Monday night.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger was a freight train on thie ice, hitting everything he could and skating at a level not seen since suffering the high ankle sprain. That helped him get his first two points of the playoffs with two assists, both of which came from some fearsome physical play behind the net and in the corners. The second helper was a beautiful feed to Miroslav Satan for what proved to be the game-winner with 5:11 left in regulation.
On Sunday, head coach Claude Julien switched Lucic onto a line with David Krejci and Miroslav Satan, and the trio showed plenty of chemistry on Monday night. Lucic assisted on one of Krejci’s two goals.
“I think he played very well tonight,” Krejci said of Lucic. “Even in the first period, he won so many battles for me on my second goal, it was basically all his work so I’m very happy with the way he played and I look for him to do the same thing in the second round.”
“It’s great,” Lucic said of his performance. “I can definitely take some confidence out of this for sure. I was able to elevate my game more so in this game than in the previous five, so it’s a great feeling and it’s great that I was able to contribute.”
Lucic was asked what the key was on Monday night compared to the first five games of the playoffs and a frustrating season that amounted to only 20 points in 50 games.
“I think I’ve been thinking too much instead of reacting — you know, hesitating,” Lucic said. “I just needed to go out, play my game, skate hard and let things happen instead of forcing the issue. I think I did that tonight.”
But Lucic isn’t about to rest on his laurels and think one game means he has completely corrected his game.
“I can’t be satisfied and I just have to try to keep raising my game to another level because no matter who we play, it’s going to be a tough series,” Lucic said.
The Bruins will now play either the Flyers or the Penguins in the second round. If Montreal beats Washington in Game 7 of its series on Wednesday, the Bruins host the Flyers, but if the Caps beat the Habs, the Bruins play at Pittsburgh.
Either way, as Dennis Wideman pointed out, should Lucic continue to play like he did in Game 6, the opponent is in for a physical series.
“When he’s on his game, skating, barreling down that wing, you don’t want to be that guy getting the puck in the corner with him baring down on you,” Wideman said. “He puts fear into the opponent and he elevates our whole game when he’s being the Lucic we know.”
The Bruins missed that Lucic, and now, they’ve welcomed him back with open arms at the most important time of the season.