The beaming, wide, knowing grin on Milan Lucics face said it all on Saturday night. It was the only fitting reaction after he potted the Bruins first goal of the season with a little less than six minutes to go in the first period.
It lit a raging fire of emotion under the posteriors his Bs teammates and lifted them up amid what had been a scoreless first which Boston largely dominated while out-shooting the Rangers by a 14-7 margin. It also resoundingly answered all of the critics that reasoned the 24-year-old Bruins power forward was woefully out of shape while idling in Boston during the four-month lockout.
The doubters expected the worst out of Lucic to start the season, and the doubters got it wrong.
Instead the wide mark of happiness on Lucics visage was about the first thought that popped into his head after snapping home the rebound: his newborn eight pound, one ounce baby girl Valentina Lucic born just two days prior after 18 hours of labor.
Thats what was really important amid so much sound and fury with the NHL season cranking up this week.
It was a whirlwind last week for Lucic with the start of a week-long training, the birth of his first child and Saturday nights 3-1 win over the New York Rangers in impressive fashion. So youll forgive No. 17 if he didnt have enough energy or care for a round of I told you so sound bytes to everyone that doubted him after Boston's big win.
It is what it is. I dont want to make too big of a deal about it. I feel good; Im just going to go out there and play my game, said Lucic. You guys get to watch from upstairs, and you guys can make your own judgments and opinions about it.
Whether it was answering the naysayers or simply missing the game of hockey while the NHL was away for the last four months, Lucic was playing with the snarling edge that makes him one of the league's most fearsome forces. He actually could have had a goal even earlier in the period when Henrik Lundqvist kicked the rebound of a Nathan Horton shot toward the post.
But Lucic instead chose to crash the straight down the middle of the ice and wasnt in position to slam home the loose puck.
Instead Lucic took a mental note for later in the period, and crashed the far post the second time around. That's where the rebound of a David Krejci shot bounced right onto his stick for the put-back score, and the Bruins were off and running while following Lucic's lead.
The goal seemingly announced that Lucic wouldnt be suffering from the slow start to the hockey season many predicted. It also made it difficult to discern which players had or hadnt played in Europe during the lockout as everybody looked pretty close to equal in effort, output and energy levels through 60 minutes.
I give credit to the guys that went over to Europe and played were playing at a high level and doing a good job, but I also give credit to the guys who didnt, said Andrew Ference. I think a lot of guys out there tonight didnt look out of place and I thought the game was good, professional. The guys were acting like professionals even during the frustrating time of not playing.
Lucic was a professional force around the net with his big body on rebounds, he led the team with four registered hits that served notice to the Rangers he meant business for the evening and he ended up cutting his night short early after a late dust-up with Mike Rupp and Ryan McDonagh. The altercation earned him a 10-minute misconduct late in the third period when Lucic didn't leave the area once the refs told him it was time to head back to the bench.
Claude Julien loved what he saw out of Lucic after he was among many players that struggled badly in Tuesday nights scrimmage against Providence.
Lucic was very good. The microscope was on him for a long time because he didnt play in Europe and people thought that maybe he wasnt in the best of shape, said Julien. There were a lot of question marks on him, but I thought he played a solid game.
Not only did he score that goal from driving the net, but physically and everything else he was good. I dont really have any complaints about anyone on our team tonight, because I thought from top to bottom we were a pretty good hockey club.
While key forwards like Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand also didnt play in Europe during the 113 days of the NHL lockout, it was Lucic alone that bore the brunt of unfair criticism that he hadnt worked hard enough to prepare for a shortened campaign. It was always true that he hadnt been on the ice much in November or December and because of that he wasnt in game shape.
But anybody with eyes could also see Lucic hadnt gained any bad weight or suddenly fallen into terrible shape that was going to hamper his ability to at least work himself back into game shape" over the first few weeks.
Instead people ran with the narrative and tweeted out pictures of Lucic sucking wind and down on one knee when the Bruins players first got together at Boston University prior to organized training camp. That raised questions and, to be truthful, aggravated some of Lucics teammates.
Looch has been in shape this whole time, and it was great for him to go out and score proved that he hasnt missed a beat. He was physical out there as well, said Johnny Boychuk. Thats the way he wants to play and thats the way hes going to play. For him to go out and get that goal to show that hes not slacking really means a lot to everybody.
The challenge now for Lucic is to tap into that same motivational force time and time again this season once the adrenaline fades away, and the grind of the 48-game sprint begins to weight him down.
Lucic goes from tough-to-play-against to impossible-to-stop beast when hes got something to prove, and that was definitely the case while passing his personal fitness test against the Rangers.