We’re 12 games into the Bruins’ 2011 run through the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Milan Lucic has recorded more misconducts than goals.
That he’s supposed to be a modern embodiment of the “big, bad Bruins” moniker is all well and good, but Boston’s leading regular-season goal scorer might want to find better ways to vent his frustrations than engaging in unwarranted extracurricular activity before it truly costs his team.
So far, the Bruins have been barely hindered by Lucic’s loss of temper. His latest bone-headed move was punching Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman in the face Saturday night in the closing seconds of the Lightning’s victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final. The game was already decided, so Lucic just got to take an early shower after a 10-minute misconduct.
Previously in these playoffs, he was handed a 10-minute misconduct for an ill-advised punch over a linesman and into the face of Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo. And in Game 6 of the Montreal series he boarded Jaroslav Spacek to earn a game misconduct. While one could argue whether the boarding call should’ve been a minor or a major, once it was a major the game misconduct had to be added because of the injury to Spacek.
That Montreal misconduct came closest to hurting the Bruins. Winning a Game 6 on the road in Montreal is as difficult a task as there can be. The Bruins would’ve been in a better position to prevail with Lucic around for more than just half the game, but there’s no telling if they had any chance to win that night.
What all this tells us is that it’s time for Milan Lucic to grow up. He’s still just 22. But he’s in his fourth NHL season. When it comes to toughness, standing up for teammates and battling through injuries, there are few tougher players than Lucic. So why cheapen that with all these cheap shots?
When Lucic was in just his second season in the spring of 2009 and high sticked Maxim Lapierre in the Montreal playoff series, he was easily forgiven. It was a youthful transgression by an aggressive player who was just a role guy on a team that was destined to dominate that series with or without him. Those days are long gone.
In addition to being the Bruins’ leading goal-scorer, Lucic is one of the team’s emotional leaders and one of the rare players on the team that can turn the game not just with a dynamic offensive play but with a big hit. He’s fully ensconced as a first-liner and it’s time to start acting like it.
Now that the Stanley Cup is so close to the Bruins’ grasp, it’s time for Lucic to stop letting his emotions take over and keep himself and his team out of these precarious positions. Remember, Lucic escaped suspension for the hit on Spacek and for a high stick he threw at, coincidentally, Tampa Bay’s Dominic Moore in early March. There’s just so many times you can leave the principal’s office with just a warning. With the NHL forever exacting dartboard justice on its players, Lucic risks hurting the Bruins in-game and long-term every time he decides to ooze machismo instead of keeping his head.
Over the years, Lucic has matured into a well-rounded player with more skill than many projected he’d develop back when he was a second-round pick in ’07 or even when he broke into the NHL the next season. Now the emotional part of his game has to catch up and he has to learn that sometimes the toughest way to show toughness is by skating away knowing that you’re tougher instead of acting to try to prove it.
Lucic is too valuable and this is too golden an opportunity for the Bruins for him to risk it all by flaunting his right jab or anything else that’s not part of the game of hockey.