WILMINGTON -- It’s starting to get more difficult to envision Milan Lucic suddenly bursting out of his season-long funk with the playoffs approaching dead ahead.
Lucic has two shots and is a minus-2 in his last two games, and has just a single goal in his last 25 games while appearing lost and out of sorts.
He’s not playing a board-shattering role as a physical force, and he’s on pace for what would be a 10-goal season in a normal 82-game schedule -- and both of those things are far from the intimidating power forward game that Lucic had built up for himself over the last five years in Boston.
Lucic had averaged 28 goals and 61 points in each of his last two seasons, but hit a wall this year after an encouraging start.
It was troubling to watch Lucic in the first period against the Islanders Thursday night. He attempted a no-look pass across the ice with his back to the net in what appeared to be paying homage to Jaromir Jagr. But there’s a couple of problems with a play like that: It’s essentially the polar opposite of the North/South power game Lucic plays when he’s at his best, and it was a telegraphed pass that was easily broken up by the New York defense.
The lack of physicality and the attempts at finesse/skill moves reveal that Lucic has veered far away from his game. His coach is hoping that he returns to a simpler, meaner game, and sooner rather than later.
“It’s just one of those things where Milan has to do it," said Claude Julien. "He has to pick up his game and get his feet going – and get the game going that’s made him popular. You can push guys and try to do things for them. But at the same time the biggest difference-maker is him. That will be up to him and we’re very hopeful that he’ll start doing that.”
Lucic’s closest friends on the team have seen him press at times this season, and realize that it’s been a regular season filled with frustrations. But it will also be quickly forgotten if Lucic breaks out with a dominant string of games in the playoffs, and rebounds strongly from his well-chronicled struggles in each of the last two postseasons for Boston.
He had only 5 goals and 12 points during the run to the Stanley Cup two years, and last year he was shut out in seven games against the Washington Capitals. Those two disappointing playoff performances had many frustrated with Lucic’s game last spring coming out of a first-round exit, and there’s no doubt it had the left wing frustrated with himself.
Lucic wasn’t available to speak after Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena, but his teammates were more than willing to speak up for him.
“Everybody is hard on themselves more than anybody else could be,” said Johnny Boychuk. “He’s a great player. He’s going to try his best and that’s all you can ask of a guy . . . if you can look over and know he’s going to work his hardest. As soon as he gets on a roll that will be it. It’s perfect timing for it if you ask me.
“I’m not saying he’s had a bad year. I think he’s playing hard. But if somebody was having a bad year, now would be the perfect time to get into that [playoff] mode. If somebody had a bad season, you won’t even remember it if you get into the playoffs and you’re playing awesome. They’re not going to sit there and say ‘Oh, you’re having a bad year.’ They’re going to say, ‘Wow . . . he’s ready for the playoffs.’
That little bit of Boychuk optimism might just be the light at the end of the tunnel for Lucic. If he still has the energy, attitude and determination to will himself to a strong showing that pushes Boston through the Stanley Cup playoffs, then nobody is going to be grousing about the measly five goals from the lockout regular season.
But it would certainly help if No. 17 can find his game with little more than a handful of regular-season games remaining on the schedule, and another chance for Lucic to start reversing course comes Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.