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Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins looks on during a break in play against the Washington Capitals on September 29, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Elsa/2010 Getty Images)
Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins looks on during a break in play against the Washington Capitals on September 29, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Elsa/2010 Getty Images)

ROY MACGREGOR

Bruins expecting big things from Milan Lucic Add to ...

"What the @#%&!"

Well, of course he didn't say that precisely as written - who could? - and in truth Milan Lucic never spoke another word. He slipped off his helmet and gloves, stripped off his practice jersey and stomped off on his skates to the privacy of the trainer's room.

Lucic had said everything he wished to say after Tuesday's practice. Thursday, in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series against the Montreal Canadiens, he figures to have a say in a different way.

If the Bruins are going to prevail, he will need to be heard along with his linemates, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. The three forwards stand with Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan as Big Lines in the east and the west: big in size, big in numbers, huge in expectations.

"Those power forwards are always pretty successful in playoffs," Boston coach Claude Julien says.

Horton, however, has never appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs, having come to Boston from the Florida Panthers. Krejci is more about finesse. Lucic is the one who is guaranteed to become the focus of the Canadiens, in equal parts from his skill and his abrasiveness.

After a dreadful 2009-10 in which he was often injured - broken finger requiring surgery and a high ankle sprain causing him to miss 32 games and score only nine times - Lucic rebounded with a vengeance in 2010-11. He led the team in goals with 30 and tied Krejci in scoring with 62 points. One more minor penalty and he would have overtaken Shawn Thornton as the team leader in penalties.

But it is in the playoffs where the 22-year-old Lucic has excelled. Even last year, despite his regular-season woes, he was a force in the postseason, perhaps the one bright spot - five goals, seven points - in the series where the Bruins squandered a three-games-to-none lead against Philadelphia and ended up losing in seven.

Two years ago, against the Canadiens, he was a despised enemy, at one point suspended for his cross-check on Max Lapierre.

There is something about the playoffs that triggers an extra level in Lucic. The scouts saw it in 2007 when he willed his Vancouver Giants to win the Memorial Cup and was named MVP of the junior tournament.

"He's just one of those guys that loves those big types of games," Julien said. "He's a big type of player that comes up big in those situations."

Lucic is, the Boston coach suggested, one of those rare players who rarely shine during the regular season as they do in the postseason, players who "come out of the woodwork" once the season is on the line.

"Guys like Claude Lemieux," Julien suggested.

Claude (Pepe) Lemieux was unique. He won four Stanley Cups with three teams - Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche - and in 1995 was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. In 1995, he scored 13 goals to lead all playoff scorers. He had scored less than half that, six, in the lockout-shortened regular season.

Lemieux is better remembered, however, for his dirty play, a belief that you do whatever it takes, no matter what it takes, to win a championship. In 1996, his hit from behind on Detroit's Kris Draper - a hit that left Draper with a fractured cheekbone, broken jaw, broken nose, a 30-stitch cut and five displaced teeth - would have, today, led to a far longer suspension than the mere two games he received. It was hardly Lemieux's first over-the-top act on the ice. When he played for Montreal, he once bit the finger of Jim Peplinski of the Calgary Flames during a tussle.

Lemieux, however, didn't care to fight back when matters turned back on him. He would try to avoid fights and "turtle" in many of those he could not avoid. Lucic fights back, as does Horton, who had seven fights in his first year as a Bruin after only six in all his years with Florida.

Fisticuffs, however, are a pleasant rarity in the playoffs, whereas hard, tough play is the rule; if you fail to play that way, you will not go far.

"Our fans are going to want to see us beat the hell out of them," Lucic said this week. "And their fans are going to want to see them beat the hell out of us."

That, he says, is all about high expectations, something he thrives on.

"You can take the pressure any way you want," he said. "You can let the pressure get the best of you or you can feed off the pressure."

And he, obviously, plans to feed of it.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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