BOSTON -- Milan Lucic was asked after the Bruins' season-opening 3-1 win over the Rangers Saturday night if the media scrutiny over the physical condition he showed up to training camp in motivated him to play better and silence the critics.
"It is what it is. I don’t want to make too big of a deal about it," Lucic said. “I feel good. I’m just going to go out there and play my game. You guys get to watch from upstairs, and you guys can make your own judgments and opinions about it."
The Lucic we observed Saturday night looked a lot like the dominant power forward the Bruins think he can be. He opened the scoring at 14:14 of the first period with a prototypical Lucic goal, driving to the net and taking a feed from David Krejci. Lucic had his trademark edge and chip on his shoulder (a little too much in the third period, when he was ejected for some not-so-choice words to the Rangers bench with just over five minutes left) and it showed in his overall game.
"The microscope was on him for a long time because he didn’t play (during the lockout) and people thought that maybe he wasn’t in the best of shape," coach Claude Julien said following the game. "There were a lot of question marks on him, but I thought he played a solid game and, not only did he score that goal from driving the net, but physically and everything else. I don’t really have any complaints about anyone on our team tonight, because I thought from top to bottom we were a pretty good hockey club."
Lucic had acknowledged earlier in camp he wasn't where he needed to be mentally or physically, but as the week went on he felt better and, of course, his mental state outside of the rink took a turn for the better with the birth of his first child, a baby girl, Thursday.
"To be perfectly honest, this is the best I’ve felt all week," a smiling Lucic said. "I was a little worried at the start of the week, especially in that Monday practice that we had here. Like I said, I go back to that Tuesday game, and just getting the kinks out, and knowing where you are on the ice again. I remember I tripped on the boards a couple of times. It’s just one of those things.
“As the week went on, it got better. I know it wasn’t much of a day off on Thursday, but I think that had a lot to do with it too, that I just got to sit back and get my mind off hockey on Thursday, and focus on something else. And then Friday, I had a great work day with (assistant coach) Doug Jarvis, just working on some little things that I haven’t really worked on in a bit. I felt good, and I’m hoping to keep it up."
Lucic also said it felt great that Bruins fans were able to put the bitterness of the lockout behind them and pack TD Garden for the season opener.
"It’s in the back of your mind about how they feel, and what’s really going on," he said. "It was great to see that they put everything that happened behind them. I know for myself I don’t even like talking about it anymore. It’s great to see that’s it over and done with, and they’re excited for hockey, they’re excited to see us play, and as a player and as a team, we just want to go out there and play for them, and put the best product on the ice."
That's what Lucic did for the fans and his team Saturday. If he keeps it up, the words “lockout” and “CBA” and even "out of shape" will become distant memories.