So one could certainly draw a correlation between Lucic’s lackluster play of late and the Bruins’ struggles, which have been on and off for almost two months now. While not every problem was solved and Lucic may not be back to his A-game, both he and the B’s made steps in improving Thursday night. It should come as no surprise that the two coincided.
Lucic played his best game in recent memory Thursday night in helping the Bruins to a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lucic skated hard and played physical, two components of his otherwise simple game that have been missing from his arsenal for most of the year. He started to get back to that style of play Thursday, and the B’s followed suit.
Lucic delivered four hits in the shutout win, with one of them sparking the team in the first period. That shift led to an Andrew Ference fight midway through the first, a bout that no doubt sparked the club in the first and into the second period, where the B’s scored their two goals.
After Lucic was sent to the press box for last Saturday’s game with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a healthy scratch, he made it a point to get back to that physical brand of hockey.
“It was good energy from start to finish by everybody,” Lucic said. “There was a lot of talk about myself kind of getting into it more and getting back to playing that game, that high-energy game with a a lot of emotion and a lot of fire.”
It’s tough to deny that the Bruins feed off of Lucic’s intensity and fire — when he gets them going. He had those going Thursday, and it all came to a head when Lucic dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay’s Keith Aulie toward the end of the second period. It’s almost as if Aulie did Lucic a favor by obliging the Boston forward, as that could be just the thing Lucic needed to get him going. As he goes, at least when it comes to intensity, so do the Bruins and their fans.
“It’s an important part of my game, and it’s a big part of what I bring to this hockey club,” Lucic said. “On Day 1 when I first got here, that was the first thing that I established. It kind of got away from me this year. That’s what I’m 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, trying to do my best to contribute to this hockey club any way I can.”
Claude Julien, who was forced to use one of his last options by sitting Lucic against Pittsburgh, is pleased with what he’s seen of Lucic since then.
“Milan is known for that,” Julien said of Lucic’s physicality. “When he’s at his best, he puts a lot of fear in other teams just with his forecheck and his checks at the end of that. When he’s challenged, he handles it pretty well. No doubt our guys feed off that. It doesn’t mean he has to go out there and fight every night. He just has to go out there and play hard like he has lately, and things will start to come around for him.”
While the increased intensity and physicality is a welcome sight for Lucic, the Bruins still need at least some production out of Lucic, a top-six forward. He only put one shot on goal Thursday, and the little fact that he’s only scored two goals in the last two months still remains.
However, with as much as Lucic has struggled this season, it’s important to get him confident heading into the postseason. If he practices what he preaches — that playing hard, moving his feet and getting in on the forecheck will produce goals — then Thursday was surely a step in the right direction.
But it’s still on Lucic to ensure that effort comes with a more consistent effort, and that starts and ends with the player himself, even if he has to find a way to generate emotion and intensity himself.
“Playing with emotion has always worked for me,” he said. “It’s up to myself to get myself going and kind of pissing myself off before the game starts.”
That could work — and if it does, expect the Bruins to follow.