PITTSBURGH — The Bruins had known that their level of play and their results were “unacceptable” before new Delaware North CEO Charlie Jacobs used that word on Tuesday to describe the fact that the Bruins aren’t in playoff position.
But being put on notice that no one’s job is safe — from the general manager down to the last man on the roster — hasn’t been ignored by those in the Bruins’ dressing room.
“I think so,” Milan Lucic said, when asked before Wednesday night’s 3-2 overtime win over the Penguins if those words had resonated through the team. “Because of our poor play, it’s definitely expected, the comments that you hear from someone like him. As players we kind of created that, but then again we have a good opportunity to turn things around with half a season left.
“We’re still right there as far as the standings go, and no one’s going to do it for us. We have to do it as individuals and as a team. We’ve got to start bringing it and, like I said before last game, enough with the talking. It’s time to start playing the way that we can.”
Given Lucic’s play this season — which he has admitted has not been good enough — it seemed that the winger was taking the words particularly to heart. And he played that way, with a significantly improved performance, including two assists and a plus-three over his 20:57 on ice. He had two shots on net and four hits in the game, in which he played with Patrice Bergeron and Daniel Paille after coach Claude Julien changed up his lines.
“If you like it here, you can use that as motivation as well to want to stay here,” Lucic said. “I know for myself there’s no place I’d rather play than in Boston, for myself, you kind of need to use it as a wake-up call to get yourself going.
“Obviously it’s no secret that I haven’t been at my best this year, but there’s still time for me to turn things around and get it going in the right way. I’ve been through tough stretches in the past and I’ve always managed to come out of them real strong.”
Lucic is under contract with the Bruins for one more year after this one, and general manager Peter Chiarelli has shown a desire to keep the Bruins’ core together.
But it remains to be seen if that core includes Lucic. And he certainly knows that he hasn’t played well enough to earn the confidence of the organization this season, though he has been thinking about his turnaround in the 2013 playoffs as a potential model for what he could do this season.
“It’s definitely on your mind, considering you’re getting close to being able to sign a long-term deal,” Lucic said. “I have to take care of the things that I can take care of, and that’s my play and like I said, it hasn’t been great. There’s times when it’s been good this year, but not enough. The consistency hasn’t been there.
“So I have to try to find that and keep proving not just to myself but to everyone that I can be a top player and I think that’s the challenge for me heading into the second half of the season is to keep proving to not just everyone on the outside, but to myself that I can be that top-level player that I’ve been in the past.”
He added, “All that stuff that’s said on the outside, if you let that affect your play on the ice, you’re not mentally strong enough to earn a long-term commitment.”
Lucic did not seem to let it affect his play on the ice on Wednesday, or at least not negatively. Not that he really wanted to discuss it after the game. Not yet.
“Definitely,” he said, of whether his play in game could push him in the right direction. “Was able to get my legs going and play in straight lines. Paid off with some big plays that ended up as goals. Don’t want to talk too much. Just want to keep doing it.”
Loui Eriksson did not play the final 9:16 of the third period Wednesday, nor did he play in overtime after taking a slash from Robert Bortuzzo with about seven minutes left in the second period. The slash went unpenalized, but occurred near the right half-wall. Eriksson took a shot right after the injury, but appeared to be in significant pain. He played one more shift in the second period, then returned for the third and played five shifts. But that was it. “He got dinged up there,” Julien said. “He came back in the third, played a little bit, and then he said he couldn’t keep going. We inserted different guys in different spots and they did the job.”
As expected, rookie David Pastrnak did not make his return to the Bruins lineup against the Penguins. But he is expected to play on Thursday. With Pastrnak’s recent play in the World Juniors for his native Czech Republic, the Bruins opted to insert him in the second half of the back-to-back rather than the first. As Julien said, “They want to see him in the best situations possible and back-to-back is not a great way to do that.” The Bruins have four games in which to make a decision on the rookie before they need to burn the first year of his entry-level contract.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.