BOSTON -- Even before scoring the tying goal with 1:07 left in regulation in the Bruins' shootout win over the Predators on Saturday, Milan Lucic was playing his trademark physical, tenacious, hard-skating game from the opening shift. That set the tone in a game that followed the team's worst defeat of the season, a 6-0 loss at Buffalo last Wednesday.
The Bruins hope Saturday's win will snap them out of a 1-3-0 funk they've been in since the All-Star break and their mediocre 9-7-1 play since New Year's Eve. They'll get a true test on Tuesday when the conference-leading New York Rangers come to TD Garden.
Bruins coach Claude Julien knows having Lucic at his physical best will be a big help.
“You see how [Lucic] was forechecking on that, and he just went through everybody and banged that puck in,” Julien said of Lucic's goal against Nashville. “It was a big goal and that’s his game. When he forechecks and he becomes a physical player he puts [defensemen] on their heels and they look over their shoulder all the time. That’s when he’s at his best -- not just that part of it -- but driving to the net.
"When he does that, he’s successful at scoring goals and helping us out. That’s why he’s more or less a 30-goal scorer and could be even more. So that’s his game and he was definitely determined to help us out that game. The reason we won is because he gave us that chance.”
Lucic's teammates fed off his tempo, playing one of their most complete games since the last time they faced the Rangers, a 3-2 overtime loss on Jan. 21. Lucic used his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame to dictate the play, sending the Nashville defenders back on their heels. When his teammates see him doing that, they’re inspired and follow suit.
“He’s a big part of our team and he’s a big force on the ice,” Marchand said. “He’s a big body, he’s got a lot of skill and it’s very hard to take the puck off him when he’s playing his game. We feed a lot of emotion and energy from him when he’s playing that way and we need him to play that way if we’re going to win.”
Lucic knows that as well.
“We talked about it as a team before that game that we wanted to push the pace more,” Lucic said. “That was for myself a key. No matter what line I am playing with or whom I’m playing with, if we’re playing with speed, making quick strong plays, then good things will happen and we’ll create chances. It wasn’t just me -- we had a good first shift -- because [Patrice Bergeron's] line went out and took over and so on. It created momentum and I think that good first shift we had set the tone for everyone out there.”
Lucic knows he needs to bring that style on a more consistent basis to help himself and his team.
“It was one of those days where it just happens,” said Lucic, who reached the 20-goal mark for the second straight season. “I just felt lighter. A lot of those things we talked about and stressed in the practices the two days before we did and I was doing. If I move my feet, everything else takes care of itself. I don’t think I ever had seven shots on net in a game before, so if I move my feet, good things happen and that’s a part of my game that I have to remember to focus on and stay consistent with.”
Lucic also realizes his play is that much more important with linemate Nathan Horton out for the forseeable future.
“It definitely helps when I’m playing with him, I won’t lie,” Lucic said of Horton. “He does play a similar style and it just makes it easier on [David Krejci] and me. But I need to play that physical style no matter who I am playing with because that’s my style and I feed off playing that way. We miss him though, that’s for sure.”
Lucic acknowledged that his game thrives off emotion, and some games -- such as the loss in Buffalo -- that emotion can work against him.
“We were playing with an edge, but it was an edge that didn’t really help us," Lucic said. "And I need to try to not let that happen because I am an emotional guy and I let it show, but I need to channel it better as do all of us. You can see the difference between the two. We still had that edge against Nashville, but it was a different edge and we used it to our advantage. We worked it to a positive. We weren’t letting guys get under our skin, we just did what we needed to do and worried about our game.”