By Danny Picard
BOSTON -- @font-face font-family: "Times New Roman";p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; table.MsoNormalTable font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; div.Section1 page: Section1; Following Game 7 of the Montreal series, Bruins coach ClaudeJulien was asked about the health of Milan Lucic.
Seemed like a question that a coach wouldnt even answer,following an overtime thriller that clinched a first-round playoff seriesagainst the rival Canadiens. And while Julien would never answer that questionwith any type of truth (most injuries arent leaked until season is officiallyover), even he understood why it was being asked.
Lucic had only two assists in that first-round series. Attimes, it looked as if something was wrong with the Bruins forward. It wouldbe no surprise to anyone if Lucic was playing through some type of injury orillness.
Those struggles continued in the second round against thePhiladelphia Flyers. Through the first three games, he only had one assist inGame 3. Heading into Friday nights Game 4, Lucic was one of only five Bruinsskaters without a goal. The others were Adam McQuaid, Tomas Kaberle, ShaneHnidy, and Shawn Thornton.
To put that into perspective, thats three defensemen and anenforcer. Not to take anything away from what those four other players do, butLucic established himself as being on a different level, when it comes to goalscoring.
Zero goals and just three assists through the first 10playoff games wasnt what anyone in Boston had in mind for the power forwardwho scored 30 goals in the regular season.
In fact, his scoreless drought dated back further than justthe first 10 playoff games. If you want to include the last 10 games of theregular season, Lucic hadnt scored a goal in 20 games.
He snapped that skid on Friday night, leading the way inBostons 5-1 win over the Flyers, helping the Bruins clinch their second-roundplayoff series with a four-game sweep, and advancing to their first EasternConference Final since 1992.
Lucic scored Bostons first and third goals in the win, andproclaimed afterwards, that the monkey is off his back.
It feels good, said Lucic. Its been kind of frustrating thelast 20 games, not being able to put the puck in the back of the net. Tonight,I was just able to get open, and when I got those opportunities, both weregreat plays by Nathan Horton to set me up, and when I got thoseopportunities, it was nice to step up and score big goals.
The first one came with eight minutes left in the firstperiod, and it gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead. It was also Bostons secondpower-play goal of the playoffs.
Lucic was parked out front of the net, and received a quicktouch pass from Nathan Horton, where Lucic easily put the puck into an openright side of the net.
His second of the game was just as big, as it give theBruins a 3-1 lead with 4:57 left in the third period. This one came on abreakaway, after Horton found him streaking up the ice with a perfect leadpass.
From 20-game slump, to multi-goal hero, Lucic was the playerof the game on Friday night.
I tried my hardest not to get frustrated, said Lucic.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. Moving forward, youwant to keep pushing for more.
It almost seemed like it wasnt fun for me these lastcouple of games, added Lucic. Thats when it comes to my teammates having myback, and telling me to just stick with it, and start having fun again, andjust relax, and get into those areas where I did score a lot of goals thisyear.
Rightfully so, Lucic was sporting the Bruins player of thegame jacket after his two-goal performance. The last time received that honorwas the last time he scored, back on March 22.
Last time I wore this jacket was a big win for us againstthe Devils when I got my 30th goal, said Lucic. This win, regardless of thetwo goals, this win is a huge win for our hockey club and our organization.
Hes a good player for us, said veteran Mark Recchi afterthe win. Hes a big, physical presence. The puck wasnt going in the net forhim. He started to show signs of getting his legs under him again, and when youhavent scored for a while you tend to get tight. Hes a young kid andhopefully now hes found a really good time to start getting hot.
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.