Saturday night at PNC Arena, Milan Lucic originally was credited with the Bruins’ first-period goal. Minutes later, the goal was switched to Matt Bartkowski. In the third period, after video review confirmed the puck had glanced off the holder of Lucic’s skate blade and into the net, the goal was given back to the left wing.
Goals, after all, are not coming easy for Lucic.
The power forward is grinding through one of the most challenging stretches of his NHL career. The goal was only Lucic’s sixth strike. It snapped a nine-game goal-scoring drought, and was just his second goal in the last 26 games.
“For me, with the way the year’s kind of gone, it’s kind of nice to get a fortunate bounce there,” Lucic said after the 4-2 loss to Carolina. “Let’s hope we can move past what’s happened so far this season and move things in the right direction. Hopefully get my game going here with seven games left heading into the playoffs.”
When Lucic is at his best, like during a three-helper night March 16 against Washington, he plays with confidence. Lucic is a no-nonsense player who causes opponents to tremble because of his size, straight-line speed, and punishing play.
But Lucic, known as one of the most fearsome fighters in the league, is fighting himself. He is playing with little confidence. Against Carolina, in the defensive and neutral zones, Lucic turned pucks over. He was flat-footed when defensemen hit him with outlet passes.
In the offensive zone, Lucic looked to pass first to linemates Gregory Campbell and Jaromir Jagr instead of creating his own offense. It indicated a player second-guessing himself, baffled with how his touch has gone missing.
“There haven’t been too many bounces where I can have something like that to hopefully build my confidence off of,” Lucic said. “When you look at it a lot of times, usually it’s a goal like that that kind of gets things jump-started again.”
Lucic is one of the Bruins’ difference-makers when he’s clicking. His thumps change a game’s pace. When Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton are rolling, they create the team’s most dynamic offensive line.
It’s up to Lucic to scratch through this stretch. For the last two games, Lucic hasn’t been on either power-play unit. Campbell and Jordan Caron have been better net-front options.
“He still has to be better,” coach Claude Julien said of Lucic. “We know he’s still a better player. He can’t be satisfied with the goal. He can’t be satisfied with his game right now. We’ve got to push ourselves. He’s not the only one. We’ve got a lot of guys right now that still have the ability to be better. They’ve got to push themselves and we’re going to push them.”
Lucic can look to one of his replacements as an example. Saturday night, for the fourth straight game, Campbell centered the No. 2 line. He played a critical role in setting up Lucic’s goal.
First, because of the line’s heavy forecheck, Campbell picked off a Tim Gleason outlet pass. Campbell and Jagr then engaged in some thorough wall work to initiate the cycle. When the Hurricanes collapsed down low, they left Bartkowski uncovered at the left point. Jagr spotted the defenseman and gave him the puck.
“It was a good forecheck,” Campbell said. “We were able to retrieve the puck. Jags is so good at protecting it and finding guys. We noticed that the weak-side defenseman had been open as part of our pre-scout. He was able to find Bart, and Looch is really good in front of the net. That’s where we need to score more goals, in front of the net.”
With Patrice Bergeron unavailable for the last six games, Campbell has assumed additional responsibilities and has delivered on all fronts. He had two assists in last Monday’s 6-2 win over Carolina. Two nights later, Campbell popped in a pair in the 5-4 win over New Jersey. Thursday night during a power play in a 2-1 loss to the Islanders, Campbell snapped a cross-crease pass to Tyler Seguin, who responded with a quick strike.
In contrast to Lucic, Campbell is confident. When Bergeron returns, Campbell most likely will return to his fourth-line position. But Campbell was effective as a top-six fill-in because he didn’t alter his hard-hat approach.
“If anything, he’s gained confidence and made plays,” Julien said. “He’s with some good players. He’s taking the time to make those plays. He’s continued to forecheck. He’s continued to get his nose dirty in front of the net. We’ve talked with him for a long time about the power play. He’s one of those guys who’ll stand in front, take the shots, tip those pucks, and battle in there.
“It’s been a good sequence for him with Bergy’s injury. He’s really done a great job. We hope that he carries that confidence moving forward. If we can get everybody else going, he’ll be a real good player where he plays a lot of times.”