Thursday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets did not start well for Milan Lucic. Halfway through the first period, he watched Brandon Dubinsky drive David Krejci headfirst into the boards.
Lucic’s center, who had started to fall before the hit, was slow to get up. Krejci’s head absorbed most of the force. Lucic went after Dubinsky, not sure whether the hit was dirty or his teammate was OK. Lucic was called for roughing.
“From what I saw on the ice, even if he did slip — I know he did catch an edge just before he got hit — I saw all numbers just before he went in there to make the hit,” Lucic said. “I don’t know. You’ve got to look at the replay. You try to respond to it.”
Krejci left for the rest of the period. But Lucic’s night improved.
Krejci returned at the start of the second period, and Lucic scored in overtime to give the Bruins a 3-2 victory at TD Garden.
“We were able to get a win against a team that came in here looking for a win,” Lucic said. “We were able to respond. That’s good for us.”
Lucic blocked a Cam Atkinson shot. The rebound thudded off Lucic’s shinpads and skittered toward the Columbus zone. On the breakaway, Lucic targeted Sergei Bobrovsky’s five-hole, and he sniped the puck through Bobrovsky’s pads to score his first career overtime goal.
“Great job blocking the shot,” coach Claude Julien said. “He got on his horse and took off. He can shoot the puck. He got him five-hole. Great decision on his part.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Lucic was worried about Krejci. The center was pursuing a puck along the boards when he lost an edge. When Dubinsky closed in, the Columbus forward slammed his left thigh into Krejci’s head. The hit knocked Krejci’s helmet off. Krejci got to one knee, but stayed on the ice for several moments before skating off on his own.
For the rest of the period, Krejci underwent mandatory tests to determine the state of his head. Krejci has a concussion history. Dubinsky wasn’t penalized.
“When I looked at it, David was falling,” Julien said. “I don’t know if [Dubinsky] could have let up a little bit. It looked like he turned his hip a little bit. His hip kind of hit his head as he was falling. You’ve got to be careful. If you start looking at every hit and start punishing every hit, we’re going to hurt our game more than we’re going to help it.”
But Krejci took the faceoff to start the second. At 10:09 of the period, Shawn Thornton broke a 1-1 tie.
After taking a drop pass from Gregory Campbell, Thornton fired a slap shot from the right circle. Thornton’s shot deflected off Jack Johnson’s stick and zipped over Bobrovsky’s glove, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
The hard-working Jackets rallied at 16:34 of the second. Nick Foligno flipped a long-distance shot on goal. Chad Johnson stopped the puck but booted the rebound back into the slot. Foligno found the rebound and tucked a backhander past Johnson to make it 2-2.
But Johnson rebounded in the third when his teammates faltered. Of Johnson’s 12 third-period stops, three were on point-blank chances. Johnson, making only his third start of the season and first on home ice, gave Lucic the chance to score in OT.
“[Johnson’s] probably had the toughest job on our team so far with Tuukka [Rask] playing the way he has and becoming an elite goaltender,” Lucic said. “He’s getting almost all the starts. Having to come in and play big for us was huge, especially tonight. You need games like that from your goaltenders. It was great to see him get rewarded.”
Lucic’s OT strike capped a five-game, nine-point homestand for the Bruins. They had entered the Garden segment with three losses in four games.
On Friday, the Bruins kick off a three-game road swing against Ottawa. They’re a more confident group than the one that started the homestand. They’re playing a heavier game. They’re more mentally engaged. They’re rolling four lines with better rhythm. The second-place Bruins trail Tampa Bay by only three points in the Atlantic Division.
“We really kind of turned the corner and we’re playing a lot better,” Brad Marchand said. “We didn’t play our best game. But we got the win. That’s what matters.”