Everyone remembers the Boston Bruins incredible 2013 Stanley Cup Playoff run. Ten minutes from being eliminated in round one, the team rallied from a three goal deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs to win Game 7 in overtime, then obliterated the New York Rangers and swept the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins. Boston was two wins away from their second Stanley Cup in three years before the dream stalled and the Chicago Blackhawks won the series. Regardless, it was still one heck of a memorable time for fans.
For Bruins forward Milan Lucic, that’s the only part of the 2013 season he’d like to reminisce about. This is mainly because his play during the regular season was, to put it delicately, a little rough.
Coming into the first year of his brand new contract, Lucic met skepticism right away. During the lockout, many players on the team went overseas or found other venues to keep their game sharp until NHL play resumed. Lucic, however, did not, and the fatigue he showed was pretty apparent. Despite scoring in the season opener against the Rangers, his scoring totals weren’t exactly something to brag about. In 46 games, he was only able to muster seven goals, a severe drop-off from the 26 he scored in 2011-12. Things hit a head when, during a late March game, coach Claude Julien designated Lucic as a healthy scratch.
If ever there was a wakeup call, this was it. Lucic returned, bringing with him his since-missing physical play, and began to look like the player many in the league fear. He had a solid postseason, and has come into the 2013-14 season with a vengeance. Currently, he leads the Bruins with eight goals – topping his total from last season in just 18 games – and hasn’t been called out for loafing anytime this year. When he’s throwing his body around, his game just looks better, highlighted last night when he blocked a shot that lead to his breakaway goal which defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime.
Lucic admitted in the offseason that playing under a new contract was really weighing on him last year, as he felt the need to always try and perform at his best to make sure GM Peter Chiarelli didn’t have any second thoughts on resigning him. This, of course, can weigh on a player and cause him to press too much. It was also noted that the birth of his son last offseason, his first child, may have been pulling his mind away from the rink.
One thing to note is that he, like fellow Bruin Brad Marchand, is missing a key piece of his line this season. Where Marchand saw Tyler Seguin, one of his closest friends on the team, dealt to the Dallas Stars, Lucic watched as his line-mate Nathan Horton left Boston in free agency to join the Blue Jackets. However, where Marchand has notably struggled this season, Lucic has significantly improved from the year before despite Horton’s absence. One has to think the veteran presence of Jarome Iginla on his line could have more than a slight hand in that.
Either way, whether it was the healthy scratch last season or just getting his head together, Lucic is looking like the player the Bruins want him to be again. This is huge, as the team seems to go as he goes. When he’s disengaged physically, the team can’t seem to get their hitting game going. Yet, when he’s throwing his body around with a vengeance, creating scoring opportunities for himself and others, the Bruins just seem to click.
Memo to the rest of the league: if Lucic is indeed back to his old self, I would recommend skating with caution whenever he’s on the ice.