BOSTON (CBS) – Milan Lucic's day started with something rare Saturday.
Typically a distributor of bone-rattling checks, Lucic was leveled by Philadelphia Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo on a breakout at the Bruins' blue line with less than a minute elapsed on the game clock.
"I wasn't feeling very good before the game, but definitely when you get hit like that right off the bat it does wake you up and get you engaged right off the start," Lucic said after the Bruins defeated the Flyers, 5-2, at TD Garden. "So yes it definitely did wake me up."
Although Lucic might not have needed that wakeup call, he got it and used it to his advantage. Lucic's two-goal, one-assist performance helped the Bruins clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference despite the absence of leading goal scorer Jarome Iginla for the second time in three games.
Loui Eriksson filled in at right wing for Iginla again and chipped in with four assists. Center David Krejci finished with one goal and one assist as the Bruins continued their third-period dominance (plus-50 on the season) by outscoring the Flyers, 3-0. But the heroics of the third period might not have been possible were it not for Lucic's actions in the first period.
After Rinaldo introduced Lucic to a seat on the ice, the Boston forward gathered his senses and then set his sights on a fight with the Flyers agitator. Rinaldo's racked up 137 penalty minutes and seven fighting majors this season. But just like he did in Philadelphia last weekend, Rinaldo declined to fight Shawn Thornton after defeating Iginla in a fight."
"Personally I don't know why he wouldn't. I probably would get an instigator in that as well; sit out for fifteen more minutes," Lucic said. "But he didn't want to, so that's basically it. He's usually more than willing so I found it kind of odd that he didn't fight right there at that time."
Regardless of Rinaldo's line of thinking, Lucic came out of the box two minutes later with the score still 0-0. At that point, and with the Bruins needing two points in the standings much less than the Flyers, Boston's 25-year-old showed the maturity of his seven seasons in the NHL by directing his energy elsewhere.
Lucic was only credited with two hits, but he was a physical presence between the whistles for the remainder of the game. He scored his first goal on a one-timer from the high slot in the second period and then extended the Bruins' lead to 4-2 by throwing a puck on net and having it deflect into the goal late in the third period. After that score he skated by the Philadelphia bench and gave the Flyers a tongue lashing, but he didn't do anything that could put his availability to the Bruins or his team's chances of winning in danger.
A younger, greener Lucic might have spent the rest of the day going after Rinaldo until his gloves came off. In a best-case scenario, Rinaldo would've finally obliged and the Bruins would've lost a key offensive player for five minutes. In a worst-case scenario Lucic would've crossed a line and maybe got himself ejected, suspended and/or hurt.
Lucic's response to the embarrassment of getting planted in the ice by Rinaldo and then not getting a chance for revenge was a microcosm of the consistent player he's become. He now has 24 goals. On a day when Iginla was out, Lucic (and Krejci) proved that he can carry a line without the future Hall of Famer.
Lucic went a season-high nine games without a goal before he scored in Toronto on Thursday. Now he has three goals in his past two games. What a difference a year makes, considering he had seven goals in 46 games last season. He matched that goal total in 22 playoff games and has kept on rolling 2013-14.
Not long ago Lucic was considered a future captain for the Bruins. A few off-ice issues and some on-ice incidents and struggles might've sidetracked that plan. He might never wear the C, or any letter for that matter, in the years ahead. With Lucic contributing consistent offense and discipline, though, he's emerged as the type of leader that can be integral to championship teams regardless of what's missing from his sweater.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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