WILMINGTON, Mass. -- If, as expected, Boston Bruins power forward Milan Lucic has not merely played his way down the lineup but out of it altogether, there could hardly be a more stark illustration of the concerns facing the team as it prepares for the postseason.
Although coach Claude Julien would not confirm that Lucic will be a healthy scratch Friday night when the Bruins play host to the scorching-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, his use of Lucic during practice Thursday at the team's suburban facility suggests Lucic will be the odd man out.
Even Lucic seemed resigned to the fact that his poor play could see him in a suit and tie instead of suiting up for what many view as a possible Eastern Conference finals preview, something that would have been unthinkable the last two seasons as he scored a combined 56 goals and established himself as a player with a rare blend of snarl and skill.
A contrite Lucic talked about a confidence level that has sunk to levels he hasn't experienced in years and the need to stop looking in any direction other than within for answers.
"You can't just keep making excuses," said Lucic, who has one goal in his last 11 games and just six on the season.
With Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand back from injury (they played in Wednesday's shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres) and with prospect Carl Soderberg looking to get his first taste of the NHL before the start of the playoffs, there simply might not be room for Lucic on the ice.
But give Lucic credit: He acknowledged that being scratched wouldn't be anyone's fault but his own.
"No, I wouldn't blame anyone but myself," he said. "I'm for what's best for the team."
That said, it's a troubling situation given how important a tough, skilled player is come playoff time.
"I've taken pride in being a big part of this team," Lucic said.
Both he and club management are hopeful he can be again. But there is no doubt he has not been the same player to whom the Bruins committed a three-year contract extension before the lockout; the contract pays him an average of $6 million a season.
"He's had a disappointing season," GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com Thursday.
Chiarelli wonders if a lack of training during the lockout contributed to Lucic's struggles.
"He's a big guy that maybe didn't train as hard as he should have, and it's catching up with him a little bit," the GM said.
Is there an issue with effort?
"His game is not where it should be and that's all I'll say on it," Chiarelli said.