April 12, 2011

Lucic welcomes high expectations, ready to rise to the occasion

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins winger Milan Lucic. (Getty)

WILMINGTON -- For the Boston Bruins, their proverbial ticket to the playoffs has been punched for what seems like an eternity by now.

After playing out the string and dodging any injuries of significance, there are no more tune-ups for the Black and Gold to tackle. Come Thursday night at TD Garden, the results will be more meaningful than ever this season, as they'll take on the Canadiens in Game 1 of their opening-round series.

"It feels good," winger Milan Lucic said of the postseason finally arriving. "Obviously you battle all season long to get yourself in a position to be part of the playoffs and it was a real tough grind. We're excited for the challenge coming up ahead and we're really looking forward to it."

Truth be told, it was a much tougher grind a year ago to qualify. Boston didn't cement their spot in the playoffs until Game No. 81 of the 2009-10 campaign, as myriad injuries repeatedly hindered their ability to climb up the standings in the Eastern Conference.

"I think last year, we had to deal with a lot more," Lucic said, as the Bruins finished the year as the sixth seed in the conference. "I missed 35 games and we lost Savvy for pretty much the whole year last year.

"There's been more guys that have stepped up this year. We're all a year older and we learned a lot from last year, especially in the playoffs. Looking at our team right now, we're a pretty confident group."

Despite winning just two of the six games in their season series with the Habs, the Bruins should have plenty of confidence heading into the matchup. Boston walloped Montreal 7-0 in their last meeting, as the Bruins controlled the game from start to finish.

In fact, Boston managed to put 15 pucks in Montreal's net in the two most recent games at TD Garden between the historic rivals. The atmosphere in the building was, as one might expect, raucous.

"Our fans are going to want to see us beat the hell out of them, and their fans are going to want to see them beat the hell out of us," Lucic said. "We know the energy is going to be high in both buildings and that's what makes this rivalry so great, that the fans are so pumped up about it. That's what makes it fun being a part of this rivalry."

One major key to the Bruins success in that 7-0 runaway win was their ability to stay out of the penalty box while still imposing their physical prowess on the Habs.

"It can come down to one little thing that makes the difference between winning and losing," said Lucic. "We have to control our emotion, use it to our advantage and feed off of it. I don't think we have to change anything from how we played in the season. I think we still have to play with an edge and that high-energy type of game so we're into the game emotionally."

Lucic has been a perennial stud in the postseason, from his days in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants to here in Boston with the Bruins. After an injury-plagued season last year, the 6-foot-3 winger's production during the playoffs was a bit unexpected after he struggled through most of the campaign with a high-ankle injury.

This year, things are much different. Lucic is coming off of a breakout season, one in which he led the team in both goals (30) and points (62). Continuing to contribute offensively on a nightly basis will be a must for both he and his linemates, David Krejci and Nathan Horton.

"It's always a challenge," Lucic said. "You always have to take your game up to another level to be able to perform in the playoffs.  You can take the pressure anyway you want. You can let it get the best of you or you can feed off of it. For ourselves, especially the season we had together, I think we're looking forward to seeing how we can transform our game and take it into the playoffs."