Lucic/By S. Bradley

He didn’t rip through his equipment and uniform at the 9:23 mark of the Bruins’ 3-1 win at Washington tonight, but Milan Lucic did get pushed over the line and finally threw down with Capitals giant John Erskine in a bout that ended with a takedown by the Boston winger.

The altercation capped Lucic’s Gordie Howe hat trick (always a misnomer since the Hall-of-Famer only recorded two in his entire career) as Boston’s fully healthy, bulky beast of a winger had already registered a goal and assist against the previously red-hot Caps.

Lucic’s linemates David Krejci and Nathan Horton combined for three additional points, including Krejci’s first-period goal that put the Bruins ahead 1-0, to run the trio’s point total for the season to 17. If head coach Claude Julien’s top triumvirate doesn’t deserve to be known as the HuLK (Horton-Lucic-Krejci) Line, then I don’t know who does.

Maybe the Bruins’ top group of forwards is as mild-mannered as Dr. Bruce Banner most of the time. While you can’t peel the smile of Horton’s face now that he’s out of hockey purgatory (otherwise known as Sunrise, Fla.), Lucic and Krejci are two of Boston’s more-jovial 20-somethings. The Erskine incident, however, showed what happens when you finally make the Bruins’ top line angry. As the line continues to produce at a clip that’ll earn it a place among the league’s top two or three trios this season, there promises to be even more physical clashes against adversaries frustrated by their inability to contain, let alone stop, the HuLK.

There have been other important factors in the Bruins’ impressive 3-1-0 start. Tim Thomas has been an early-season revelation while returning to his 2008-09 form, and the defense has finally figured out a way to join the attack and cash in. However, the Bruins haven’t been perfect. The power play is still spinning its wheels. The defense pairs are still a work-in-progress. Marc Savard’s injury absence has obviously also been a negative in the early going.

So when it comes to superhero performances, this almost instantaneous emergence of Horton, Lucic and Krejci couldn’t have come at a better time. Like Bill Bixby’s Dr. Banner arriving in town just in time to save the day before bolting to make sure no one finds out his Hulk-sized secret, the HuLK line’s eruption has allowed the Bruins to earn six points in four games without sporting Savard in their lineup, or much of a man-advantage or much continuity on the back end.

With the perfect amount of skill, speed, grit and shooting ability, Boston’s top line almost looks like a trio conjured up in a laboratory. Instead of the HuLK Line turning out as an experiment gone wrong, however, the Bruins’ fusing of Horton, Lucic and Krejci has proven to be the perfect fuel for a fast start.