VANCOUVER – Playing for hockey’s biggest prize in his home town doesn’t faze Milan Lucic.
The hard-nosed winger from East Vancouver is on an emotional high as his Boston Bruins meet the Vancouver Canucks in the opening game of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday.
But Lucic’s euphoria could be trouble for the team he grew up rooting for as Boston seeks to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in five tries since capturing it in 1972.
“I’ve always been able to thrive off playing excited and playing with a lot of emotion,” Lucic, who led the Bruins with 30 goals and 62 points in the regular season, said Tuesday.
“Often when guys go and play at home in front of friends and family they tense up and tighten up. I just get excited about it.”
That excitement hasn’t gone unnoticed by linemates Nathan Horton and David Krecji who lead the Bruins with 17 playoff points apiece.
“He’s got that extra little buzz around him,” Horton said of Lucic’s arrival on the West Coast for the best-of-seven series that continues in Vancouver Saturday before shifting to Boston.
And Lucic has had some memorable performances in this city where the Bruins hope to end a 39-year Stanley Cup drought and the Canucks want to halt their dry spell at 40.
In the only regular-season game Boston played against the Canucks, Lucic set up the tying goal and scored the winner in a 3-1 victory.
The 2007 Memorial Cup final to determine the top junior team was played in Vancouver as well and his first shift in the title game has become the stuff of legend.
The six-foot-four, 220-pound Lucic was a human wrecking ball, crunching three Medicine Hat Tigers with bone-rattling body checks, then finishing with a fight.
It set the tone for a 3-1 victory. Lucic assisted on the winner and earned tournament MVP honours. He made the Bruins roster that fall as a 19-year-old.
“When I came in, he was a big physical force, scored goals the hard way,” said veteran Mark Recchi, the only player in the series seeking to hoist the Stanley Cup for a third time.
“He’s a big guy who can skate. He’s just continued to grow and grow more confident in the ways he can be a scorer in this league.”
Like the Canucks, the Bruins needed an overtime win in Game 7 of a first-round series to stay in the Cup hunt.
Again, it was a Lucic pass that allowed Horton to score his second overtime goal of that series against the Montreal Canadiens in a 4-3 win.
In the second round, the Bruins exorcised a demon from their last post-season foray when they swept Philadelphia. Last year Boston led the Flyers 3-0 in games and blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7.
They needed another seventh game in this year’s Eastern Conference final but prevailed 1-0 on Horton’s series winner against Tampa Bay to advance to the Stanley Cup final.
The Bruins, who last appeared in a Cup final in 1990, bring stingy defence with big, punishing defencemen like six-foot-nine, 255-pound Zdeno Chara.
The Norris Trophy finalist is seeking to become the second European captain to win the Cup.
Goalie Tim Thomas is a Vezina Trophy finalist like Canuck counterpart Roberto Luongo.
Thomas’s unorthodox style helped keep the Bruins’ goals-against total to 185, third lowest in the NHL during the regular season.
Boston can’t match the firepower of the Canucks who boast the likes of the twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, or gritty forward Ryan Kesler, a Selke Trophy finalist, or get as many goals from their defence.
But the Bruins have demonstrated they can play against teams with high-octane offences like Tampa Bay.
“Discipline’s a big thing,” said Lucic, whose uncle Dan Kesa played briefly with the Canucks in 1993-94.
“Our penalty kill’s been great so far throughout the playoffs but their power play’s been very good so sometimes you’ve got to step up and be the bigger man and not let your emotions get the better of you.”
One area where the Bruins could be vulnerable is an anaemic power play where defenceman Tomas Kaberle was obtained from the Toronto Maple Leafs to inject puck movement.
His passing ability hasn’t seemed to help. The Bruins are only 5-for-61 in the playoffs, a pitiful 8.2 per cent compared to 28.3 per cent for Vancouver.
“At the beginning of the playoffs, we felt like if we couldn’t get our power play going, we were in big trouble,” said coach Claude Julien.
“But here we are in the finals, so we’ve managed to survive. We understand if your power play doesn’t get going, you’re certainly playing with fire.”
While four of his six playoff assists have come on game-winning goals, Lucic struggled early in the playoffs, not scoring for the first 11 games.
Then he counted twice in the series-clinching game against the Flyers and scored in Boston’s Game 6 loss to Tampa Bay.
He knows what he has to do.
“In the playoffs you’ve just got to keep going to those areas in front of the net. This era, the goalies, they’re not getting beaten by direct shots.
“Obviously we know Roberto Luongo’s a great goaltender but we’ve got to do whatever we can to make things hard on him.”
NOTES: So who’s Canada’s team? Twelve of the 13 Bruins forwards and four of the seven defencemen who have seen playoff action are Canadians. That’s a much higher ratio than the Canucks where eight of 15 forwards and four of nine defencemen are Canadian-born. As for the goalies, Thomas is an American while Luongo is from Montreal.