It was as if Milan Lucic was a different player in the postseason — more aggressive, more physical, more apt to shoot. He had struggled throughout the regular season, so much so that coach Claude Julien made him a healthy scratch back in April.
That wasn’t the same player who emerged in the playoffs.
“Just felt like you had something to prove, especially with what happened in the season,” Lucic said. “I saw it as an opportunity to get my game back to where I wanted it to be, and show that I am still able to be a big-game type of player.”
Lucic tallied 19 points in the playoffs, including seven goals, as part of the most productive line of the playoffs. Linemate David Krejci led the NHL in postseason points with 26.
But those seven goals were as many as he had scored in the regular season, when he went on epic droughts and faced doubts about his abilities. It was especially difficult in the wake of signing a contract in September that will make him the second-highest-paid player on the team when it kicks in.
“I think once I stopped thinking about it is when I started playing well this year,” he said. “I stopped worrying about living up to the expectation of the paycheck, and my game started being where it wanted to be.
“Obviously, when you make as much as you do it’s always going to weigh on you. But I think for myself what I learned the most was once I stopped thinking about that and once I stopped worrying about living up to some unrealistic expectation that I put on myself and I just focused on playing hockey, that’s when I was playing at my best.”
And he made an impact in other ways, too.
“What I can take away from this playoff with respect to Looch is, I just go back to that Toronto game,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “He came behind the bench [after the first third-period goal] and the way he said it, delivered his message to the bench: ‘There’s one, boys. Got a couple more to go.’
“That, to me, that speaks to the leadership. I think it just raises the level. He was a man among boys that game.”
Lucic said that, while mostly healthy, he was dealing with a nagging neck injury from “all the hits you take and give.” But he wasn’t using that as an excuse. He didn’t need an excuse, not after the way he had turned around his season in the playoffs, a season he said taught him more than any other.
“Two years ago I had such an awesome regular season and then I go into the playoffs and I had an average playoffs, and then this year the season was what it was and then it ended off with a great playoff,” Lucic said. “I think you want to be known as a player who can keep it at a high level from start to finish, so I think that’s the mental part — to kind of find that consistency in your game from start to finish. That’s one of the big things for myself.”
Pandolfo may retire
Jay Pandolfo has not made his decision, but the veteran forward will likely retire.
“I’ll take a little time to think about it,” said Pandolfo, “but I’m probably leaning toward this being done. I haven’t 100 percent made that decision, but that’s probably the direction I’m leaning in.”
Pandolfo started the season on a tryout basis. He practiced and attended home games without a contract. Pandolfo signed his one-year deal Feb. 12, and then the Burlington native appeared in 18 games for his hometown club.
Pandolfo has appeared in 899 career games, including 819 with New Jersey. Pandolfo made his mark as a defensive specialist and penalty killer. The former Boston University captain has 100 goals and 126 assists in the NHL.
Pandolfo did not play in the playoffs.
“I knew the situation coming in here when I signed,” Pandolfo said. “I was fine with that. Being a kid from Boston, having a chance to play for them, that was unbelievable. If this may be the end for me, it feels pretty good ending it here. It would have been great if we could have found a way. But it was still an unbelievable experience. It was a great group of guys in here. I can guarantee you this team will be back there soon, hopefully next year.”
Pandolfo said he would like to remain involved in hockey.
Dennis Seidenberg suffered a pulled hamstring on his first shift of Game 7 of the first-round series against Toronto, and played only 37 seconds in that game.
“Originally, it was bad,” Seidenberg said. “I could hardly walk. But it healed pretty good.”
Seidenberg missed the first four games of the second round against the Rangers, but played in every remaining game. He logged 48:36 of ice time in the triple-overtime Game 1 loss to Chicago.
Seidenberg said the hamstring pull didn’t bother him during the Stanley Cup Final. He said he also had a minor elbow ailment.
Chara injured hip
According to Chiarelli, Zdeno Chara played through an injured hip flexor against Chicago. Chiarelli classified the injury as “pretty potent.” Chara, however, said he would have not have missed any games had the injury taken place during the regular season. “I’m not going to use my body as an excuse. That’s No. 1,” Chara said. “I take full responsibility for what happened. It’s something I don’t regret. I gave my all. I gave my effort every game I played. I competed as hard as I could. I gave it all. Sometimes you’re still going to come out short.” . . . Wade Redden suffered a shoulder injury against Toronto. Chiarelli did not rule out re-signing Redden, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 5.