May 7, 2011

Lucic gets monkey off back, lifts B's to series-clinching victory

by Jesse Connolly

Milan Lucic celebrates his first-period goal against the Flyers in Game 4. (Getty)

BOSTON -- Heading into Game 4 against the Flyers, Bruins winger Milan Lucic didn't just have a monkey on his back. The weight of following up a breakout season as the team's leader with 30 goals, only to go without a tally in ten-straight playoff contests, probably felt more like an 800-pound gorilla.

After a two-goal outing to help his team sweep Philadelphia and move on to their first conference finals appearance in 19 years, however, Lucic finally shook that burden off of his shoulders at just the right time.

"It feels good," said Lucic, whose last tally came way back on Mar. 22 against the Devils. "It’s been kind of frustrating, the last twenty games, not being able to put the puck in the back of the net. But tonight I was able to get open, and when I got those opportunities, both great plays by [Nathan] Horton to set me up, and when I got the opportunities it was nice to step up and score big goals."

Lucic opened the scoring a little more than 12 minutes into the game, burying a feed from atop the crease from Nathan Horton by Sergei Bobrovsky to give Boston an early 1-0 lead. In the third period, with Boston ahead 2-1, the 6-foot-3 winger all but carved the sweep in stone with an insurance marker to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead with under five minutes remaining in regulation.

The breakout performance gave Lucic the honor of sporting the now-infamous, undoubtedly hideous retro jacket as the team's best player in the tilt.

"Last time I wore this jacket was a big win for us against the Devils when I got my 30th [goal]," Lucic said. "This win, regardless of the two goals, this win is a huge win for our hockey club and our organization. I think it’s been since 1992, since the Bruins have made the third round here. The last three years, we’ve been looking for this eighth win in the playoffs, to get into the third round, and we were happy to get the job done tonight."

Throughout his struggles leading up to Game 4, Lucic received continuous encouragement from all of his teammates, especially his linemates.

"They always have my back, and even for them, times were tough this year," Lucic said of the support he received from both David Krejci and Nathan Horton. "I had to lift them up, and just tell them to relax, and that was the same sort of thing. They had my back, and they just told me, ‘It’s gonna come. Just keep sticking with it.'

"I tried my hardest not to get frustrated. There was a time there when I was really frustrated, but right now, obviously it feels good to step up and help the team win a big game. And moving forward, you want to keep pushing for more."

Veteran winger Mark Recchi simply said that's what being a good teammate is all about.

"That’s what good teams do," Recchi said after the 5-1 win. "He’s a good player for us. He’s a big, physical presence. The puck wasn’t going in the net for him. He started to show signs of getting his legs under him again, and when you haven’t scored for a while you tend to get tight.

"He’s a young kid and hopefully now he’s found a really good time to start getting hot. He’s been a great teammate to everybody else this year. When guys are struggling or they're fighting to score goals, what good teams do is find ways to help him and take that pressure off of him."

While every member of the Black and Gold was thrilled to see Lucic finally put his drought to bed, so too were the fans at TD Garden, as the building became deafeningly loud in the closing minutes of the contest.

"You could feel it when Johnny [Boychuk] got that second goal," Lucic said of the atmosphere. "You could just feel it in the crowd. Even more so when I got my goal to get the two-goal lead. And obviously, as an organization, there hasn’t been much success in the playoffs, getting past the second round. Like I said, I think it’s been since ’92 since they’ve been in the third round, so it’s a big deal for our organization."

While Lucic and the Bruins will certainly revel in their accomplishment, they've already got their eyes on the next opponent awaiting them.

"Obviously we’re happy with what we’ve done so far," the hulking winger said. "We want to enjoy what we’ve done, but come tomorrow, we’ve got to get right back to work and focus on the task with a great team in the Lightning that are playing real well right now."

News flash for the Lightning: so are the Bruins. And now with Lucic back in a groove, keeping the Black and Gold from reaching the Stanley Cup finals is going to be a helluva lot harder to do.