TORONTO, ON - Milan Lucic wanted to forget about his regular season.
So he finished his final two games of April with three points, landed five hits, and catapulted himself into postseason play, where the Bruins' powerful forward has put up six assists in just the first three games. That includes a three-assist, plus-three night on Monday en route to a 5-2 win in Toronto and the 2-1 series lead.
Though, anyone who watches the 6-foot-3, 230-pound forward play, knows that his game is much more than assists. He makes his presence felt, in a big, "Boston Bruins hockey" type of way.
On Monday, Lucic threw three recorded hits, and his heavy one on Leafs' winger Joffrey Lupul would have drawn cheers from a sea of Black & Gold, had Game 3 been in the confines of TD Garden. He also powered himself down the ice and fired five shots. He was a threat.
And it's hard to imagine him any other way.
"Milan was huge tonight, I think he was our best player out there," said his center, David Krejci following the 5-2 win. "I think he was making strong plays. Horty does what he does, big goal in a crucial moment. I'm just happy that those two guys are playing really well and just trying to fit in."
Krejci was proud of his linemate enough to hand over the 'Player of the Game' Army Rangers jacket in the locker room right after the victory, after he had earned the honors of wearing it following Game 1. A smiling Lucic was proudly donned in the jacket as he spoke to floods of reporters after the win.
It's a tradition that started in 2011, to hand out a jacket to the best player of the game, and this season, it has its own twist, by showing support to the Army Rangers and all military in the process.
"Yeah, it's something that we wanted to bring back. Something that we always try to do is give off a team award to the guy that the player that got it last game feels had a strong game," said Lucic, of his pride in wearing the jacket postgame. "We went back with the jacket because it worked for us last time, and it's nice to get it."
Lucic forced his commanding presence on the Leafs in a variety of ways.
Before Adam McQuaid net his first career playoff goal to put Boston on the board first, it was Krejci's faceoff win and Lucic quickly boxing out the Leafs in a Jagr-esque way to give the D-man a simple touch pass for him to fire from the right point.
But the most commanding play of the night was when a breakout up-ice from the Lucic-Krejci-Horton trio put the puck in behind Toronto netminder James Reimer just 50 seconds after the Leafs had pulled within one on the power play. It caused a shift in the hostile crowd, and Daniel Paille backhanded home a shorthanded goal just 2:02 later.
The puck had been deep in the Bruins' zone, before Krejci put a lead pass off the boards in racing room for Lucic, with his right winger also driving the net. No. 17 powered through the Leafs' defense and centered a pass right to Horton's tape on the doorstep.
"I was just trying to hunt the puck down and was able to get a good bounce there and find Horton there," said Lucic. "And he did a good job putting it upstairs in the back of the net."
"I think so far for us, it's been the biggest goal of this series and it was a big part of the game."
Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, was busy facing a much higher quantity of shots at the other end this time around, and kept the crowd out of it for most of the night, stopping 46 of their 48 shots. From his place between the pipes, he also felt the momentum shift.
"Yeah, that was big. We always try to get the momentum back quick when they score and today we did. It's big, it gives you a little breathing room," said the netminder, who said he never felt tired despite the plethora of shots.
"But again, still got to play the same way no matter what the score is. It was a great momentum change for us."
"They scored a big goal, and obviously the fans got into it. You could feel the electricity in the air. To me, that was probably a big turning point right there, that we could come back the next shift and score that big goal and, again, take that energy right out of the building," Coach Julien told media postgame, on the sequence of Horton's game-winner right after the Leafs' first home playoff goal since 2004.
"From there on in, we had better control for the rest of that period. Obviously Paille scoring that shorthanded goal was huge for us. We had a decent cushion heading into the third period.
"We just had to finish strong."
Late in the third, it took less than 20 seconds after Reimer had been pulled for the extra attacker, for Lucic and Horton to get the puck to Krejci to seal the 5-2 win with the empty-netter, and giving them a combined 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) so far this postseason.
Lucic and company will be hoping that pace continues throughout the playoffs. After all, the trio has combined for 116 postseason points, all with the Bruins. They also have 11 game-winners, with the B's two so far in the playoffs coming from Horton.
"Hopefully that can continue, the guys are working hard, creating opportunities for themselves," said McQuaid. "And then, they were able to capitalize on their opportunities."
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