BOSTON — It was a milestone that Milan Lucic never even allowed himself to dream about reaching.
Just 22 years old and coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him limited to 50 games and nine goals a year ago, Lucic wasn't expecting to become the first Bruin to reach the 30-goal plateau since Phil Kessel in 2008-09.
But that's just what he did Tuesday night, and his 30th tally was an important one as he extended Boston's lead to 3-1 in the third period en route to a 4-1 victory over the Devils at the Garden.
"It's a big milestone for me to hit, especially here in the NHL," Lucic said. "I never imagined I'd get to this milestone so quickly. It just goes to show how hard I've worked to get myself in this position and it's great to get rewarded for it."
Lucic entered the season hoping to reach 20 goals for the first time. He did that back on Jan. 26 against Florida. Getting to 30 took 22 more games, but Lucic reached a level he admitted few expected him to ever get to.
"I know there were a lot more people that would say no than yes, that's for sure," Lucic said. "I wasn't really thinking about it going into this year to be perfectly honest about it. I was just thinking about everything one game at a time, one goal at a time. Last year going into the season I kind of looked at the big picture and it didn't work out for me, whereas this year I focused on getting myself healthy and just worrying about what I have to do tomorrow, not the whole year. I think that's worked for me so far. I'm happy that I hit that 30-goal milestone."
"You could always see it," said Shawn Thornton, who scored his own career-high ninth goal to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period. "His shot's always been big. He's such a huge, strong guy and he gets a little more room than other guys because he's so tough. I think him playing with Horty [Nathan Horton] and Krech [David Krejci], it looks like they're having a lot of fun out there too. That's a big thing, but he's definitely developed into a heck of a hockey player."
Lucic picked up an assist playing up front with Krejci and Horton on the power play when Zdeno Chara ended Boston's drought on the man-advantage in the second period, but Lucic's own tally actually came off a feed from Patrice Bergeron in the midst of a line change.
Chara began that play with some nifty stick-handling to keep the puck in the New Jersey zone before finding Bergeron, who in turn dropped a pass from below the goal line to Lucic in the left slot.
"He made a great patient play, kind of toe-dragging it around three guys and he found Bergy coming off the bench," Lucic said of Chara. "And Bergy made a great spin-o-rama play. I knew that he saw me, but I didn't know what kind of pass he was going to give me, but obviously it was a beauty pass."
Bergeron hasn't played a lot with Lucic this year, but he's certainly gotten a first-hand look at the youngster's surprising development.
"It has been pretty amazing," Bergeron said. "The way he developed was something special. It seems like he keeps improving. He is still young. I don't think he's finished growing yet and getting better as a player.
"It is just great to have him on our side," Bergeron added. " He has been great all year. He has been contributing offensively as well. His presence on the ice gives so much room to Krech and Horty."
That line has carried the Bruins of late, though Tuesday there were contributions from more sources with Thornton scoring, the power play finally delivering a goal and Mark Recchi adding an empty-netter. Still, Krejci, Lucic and Horton remain the driving force of the Bruins' offense, with Lucic providing much of the fuel for that.
After a bit of a slump midway through the season that saw him go 11 games without a goal and just one assist, Lucic missed three games with an undisclosed injury. Since returning on Jan. 17, he's been nearly unstoppable with 14-13-27 totals in 28 games.
The scoring totals have been impressive, but Bruins coach Claude Julien is most pleased to see that Lucic hasn't abandoned the other aspects of his game as his points have increased. In addition to career-highs of 30 goals and 55 points, Lucic also leads the Bruins with 154 hits and is second with 106 penalty minutes, including six fighting majors.
"He's having a good year, anybody who scores 30 in this league is a pretty good player," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "And he's playing his type of game as well. He's physically involved. I think he's winning a lot of his battles and he's going in front of the net and talking the space that needs to be taken. Even a couple times tonight we saw a real good effort from him backchecking and helping out defensively. So when a player plays like that, you can't complain, I think he's deserving of what's happening to him because he's been pretty consistent. "