Lucic again thriving in prime time
WILMINGTON - Last year, Milan Lucic was perhaps the Bruins' best player against the Canadiens. He was captain of the Team Canada club that laid waste to Russia's finest youngsters in the summer of 2007. Earlier that spring, he was named Memorial Cup MVP as his Vancouver Giants were crowned the best major junior team in North America.
So it was no surprise that as the puck dropped on the 2008-09 playoffs, Lucic was at his fearsome best once again.
"Remember, he hadn't scored much for a while, then he scored a couple goals against San Jose," coach Claude Julien said. "I said after the game that he's one of those players that really loves those types of situations. To a certain extent, I wasn't surprised at the way he played because Looch just loves those situations. He proved that last year in the playoffs - a 19-year-old who goes in there and is arguably our best player in the playoffs. He was a guy that Montreal probably paid the most attention to because of everything he brought. His physical play. He was creating some scoring chances. When I see these types of games coming, I know I can count on Looch."
Lucic landed a game-high six hits Thursday in the Bruins' 4-2 victory over the Canadiens in the opener of their first-round series. In the first period, he hustled after a dump-in to trigger a sequence that ended with a David Krejci backhand goal. In the third, Lucic picked off defenseman Mathieu Schneider's outlet pass, dangled into the offensive zone, and set up Phil Kessel for an empty-net goal.
"Any player that gets a goal out there on a six-on-five, you have to protect the lead," Lucic said. "You have to rise to the occasion and get the job done. When the coach calls me, you can't get nervous and you can't grip your stick [too tight]. You've just got to go out there and do the job."
For good measure, after Maxim Lapierre went after Kessel following the empty-netter, Lucic barreled into the scrum to defend his teammate. But Lucic, who lost his top in the sixth regular-season game against the Canadiens, kept his cool and didn't put his team a man down in Game 1.
"In one ear, out the other," Lucic said of the trash-talking that took place.
"Our speed will wear them down," said forward Christopher Higgins. "We're a better skating team than they are."
But that doesn't mean the Habs will be wearing halos, either.
"There was emotion for sure [in Game 1], but it's part of the game," said defenseman Patrice Brisebois. "It's intimidation, I'd say, to let the team know that it'll be tougher."
But even Brisebois had to concede the Bruins are no slouches.
"They didn't finish first for nothing," he said. "What do you call it? Consistency."
But while Recchi believed the puck skimmed under the bar and in, it ricocheted off the iron and rolled down Price's back. Price trapped the puck with his glove before it dribbled over the line.
"I heard a 'clunk,' like it went underneath the bar, so I thought it went in," Recchi said. "There's two different sounds when you hit the crossbar. It wasn't that 'clink.' 'Clunk' and 'clink.' "
"It was great," Wheeler said. "It was a very exciting game. It was a great atmosphere out there. It was great to see the fans amp the level up. To see all the yellow towels in the crowd was awesome, too. It was a great experience."
One reason Wheeler got the nod over Byron Bitz is his penalty-killing chemistry with Krejci. During the season, Wheeler averaged 1:11 of shorthanded ice time per game, most of it paired with Krejci. In Game 1, 1:38 of his 10:19 total came on the penalty kill.
"He was put on a different line than where you've seen him before," Julien said. "But he still killed penalties with Krejci and did a good job there. I was happy with his game."
Globe correspondent Liz Torres contributed to this report.