BOSTON -- Bruins coach Claude Julien has been pleased with the way Milan Lucic has been playing this season. But the coach recently noticed that the veteran forward seemed to be pressing a bit.
On Friday, Julien spoke with Lucic and told the hulking forward he's been gripping his stick a little too tight, especially since he had gone a span of six games without a goal.
"I say that to a lot of players when I feel that they're a little tight -- just go out there, relax and play," Julien said. "Tonight he was determined to do that and I like his game. He was shooting pucks and going to the right places."
Lucic scored a pair of goals and also got into a fight to help the Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night at TD Garden. It was his second two-goal game of the season, and he now has four points in his last five games.
At the start of the season, Lucic produced in the month of October. He scored six goals and added six assists for 12 points in the first 12 games. It was one of the strongest starts of his career in Boston. He was able to create good chemistry with linemates David Krejci and newcomer Jarome Iginla, and Lucic reaped the benefits.
But Boston's top line had evened off in November. For Lucic, his two goals Saturday are a great way to get things going again.
"Pretty good," Lucic said when asked about his overall game this season. "It was a really good start, a really good first month. Maybe the last week to 10 days I've been fighting the puck a little bit, but I was able to shake it off here today. We've been pretty good as a line and we're definitely starting to get better and better. As a line, November wasn't as good as October, but we're definitely starting to feel it and looking forward to December."
When Lucic is effectively playing his physical style of game and producing offensively, the rest of the team feeds off his energy, and it has usually equaled success for the Bruins ever since his rookie season in 2007-08. His early-season production this year is one reason why Boston sits atop of the Eastern Conference standings with an 18-7-2 record for 38 points.
"He's always been a big part of our offense and our team," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, who scored his second goal in as many games. "He's a big presence out there and when he makes it feel like he did tonight, we all feed off of it."
Lucic's first goal, a power-play tally at 14:58 of the first period, was an unintentional redirect off his stick shaft for his first power-play goal of the season. In fact, he went all of last season without a power-play goal.
At 8:34 of the second period, Lucic collected his first fighting major of the season when he dropped the gloves with the Blue Jackets' Dalton Prout. It was a spirited bout and Lucic went to the penalty box as the winner in this one. His only other fight this season came during the exhibition schedule, when he fought the Washington Capitals' Joel Rechlicz.
"It's just one of those things that happens," Lucic said of his fight with Prout. "It's really the first time I've actually been challenged since the Rechlicz fight, and the first willing combatant, as well. Before that the game was getting kind of chippy, so it kind of calmed it down after that."
Lucic's second goal of the night deflected off a Columbus defender and over the head of Columbus goalie Curtis McElhinney. On that goal, it appeared that linemate Iginla may have knocked it out of the air.
"I didn't touch it," Iginla said. "He was saying, 'Hey, if you touched it,' but I didn't touch it. He had a great game. Krej was flying, too. It was a big fight, a couple of big guys. Looch was skating well, and Krej, you could see they're starting to feel it again."
Since Lucic was credited with the goal and not the assist, he wasn't able to notch the Gordie Howe hat trick.
"It would've been nice to have gotten the Gordie, especially after [Zdeno Chara] got it [Friday]," Lucic said. "But you're not going to complain with a goal over an assist. It was just one of those nights where both goals I had the puck luck on my side and ended up with big goals."
After the game, Lucic was more concerned with the way the Bruins finished the week, winning three of four games. The only loss was the team's worst of the season, a 6-1 thrashing by the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
But Boston rebounded with a solid 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday, and then dismissed the Blue Jackets.
"We talked about finishing the week on a good note and ended up being 3-1; that's what we wanted, that was our goal and that's a pretty good week, even though we didn't get the effort we wanted in Detroit," Bergeron said. "We really bounced back the last two games and it was a perfect way to end the week."
The Bruins will have Sunday off before beginning the week with three days of practice before they travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens for the first time this season on Thursday at Bell Centre.