Without prompting, Milan Lucic acknowledged the obvious after Thursday’s Game 4 win. With a chance to eliminate the Red Wings in Game 5 of their first-round series, the Bruins were in the same position they had been in last season, against the Maple Leafs.
Because of that series — in which the Bruins won three of the first four games but needed until overtime in Game 7 to eliminate Toronto — Lucic said the Bruins weren’t taking anything for granted this time, that they knew how desperate the Red Wings would be. And in Game 5, Lucic proved it.
He was a different player than he had been earlier in the series, becoming the player the Bruins expect him to be. Lucic, who scored the tying goal in Game 4, pocketed the winner in Game 5 as the Bruins finished off the Red Wings, 4-2, on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
“I thought he really started taking over about halfway through last game, where he just started controlling the play,” Jarome Iginla said. “The puck always was with him, he’s taking two guys out in the corner. He carried that over today, too.
“He’s a very big guy and he’s strong and we all know that. But he has great hands and he has good vision, he’s a quick player, too. He’s a lot to contain, and you could just see him starting to — like I said, he was strong, but he turned it up.
“It was fun to watch and play alongside of him. The last couple games, he took it to a new level.”
And that helped the Bruins earn a rest before they take on the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the NHL playoffs. Instead of getting on a Detroit-bound plane on Sunday, the Bruins will be getting some time off.
Thanks, in part, to Lucic.
“I think I just blocked everything out and just started moving my feet more,” Lucic said. “I think that’s what created the chances for me and opportunities, was just getting my feet moving and getting myself in better areas and better situations and kind of taking the hesitation out.
“Once you stop overthinking things, I think the confidence starts to kick and the instincts start to kick in.”
The massive winger stood in front of the net early in the third period, a place where he excels. With the Bruins leading by one — courtesy of Zdeno Chara’s power-play goal in the closing moments of the second — the Red Wings’ Johan Franzen turned the puck over. Torey Krug jumped on it and dished to Lucic in front of Detroit goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. Lucic rammed it home for a 3-1 lead at 4:27.
The goal loomed larger when Henrik Zetterberg beat Tuukka Rask with 3:52 to go in the third, cutting the Bruins’ lead to one.
“[Lucic] just started playing,” said coach Claude Julien of Lucic. “Sometimes you’re worried about making mistakes. You’re trying to do the right things all the time, and when you overthink, you’re hesitating, you’re a little slow reacting.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to go out there and just skate and make things happen.”
The Bruins gave up nothing more over the final minutes of the game and the series. Iginla iced the win with an empty-netter with 15.2 seconds left, his second goal of the series.
The Bruins had come out strong, with Loui Eriksson scoring on the power play 3:27 into the game on a power play drawn by Lucic (Justin Abdelkader, hooking). It was a goal created by Dougie Hamilton, who made yet another beautiful entry into the offensive zone. The puck bounced off two Red Wings and over to Eriksson, and he scored his first playoff goal since 2008.
Pavel Datsyuk tied it for Detroit at 14:41 of the second, also on the power play. It was 1-1 headed into the final minutes of the period, before there were three penalties called in a span of 65 seconds.
The strange sequence culminated in Chara’s 4-on-3 goal with 3.8 seconds remaining, off a Patrice Bergeron feed. The Bruins captain let out a scream and curse.
“I was emotional,” Chara said. “It was a big game and a big goal. So I’m not afraid to show it.”
Said Lucic, “I think it lifted everyone on our team.”
After the game, though, there was less emotion. The Bruins — a professional, businesslike team at its best — had done what they intended to do. The series might not have been as easy as the results suggest, but they had moved on, as they were expected to do as the No. 1 seed.
“You lose this game and the other team is able to create some momentum heading back to their own building and we didn’t want that to happen,” Lucic said. “We stepped up and made the most of our opportunity in Game 4 and we said the same thing here today.
“It was an opportunity for us to look forward to and finish off the series. It’s a great feeling that we were able to do that.”