VANCOUVER – Milan Lucic couldn’t have planned his homecoming any better.
The Vancouver native scored the game-winning goal in a 3-1 Boston Bruins victory over the Canucks on Saturday.
On Friday night he was inducted into a Ring of Honour by the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, the team he led to a Memorial Cup.
“It was almost a perfect ending to a perfect couple of days here in Vancouver,”the robust winger said after banging his team-leading 27th goal of the season past netminder Roberto Luongo.
“From start to finish it’s been a hell of an experience.”
He was on Luongo’s doorstep to bury Dennis Seidenberg’s rebound for his fourth goal in as many games and snap a 1-1 tie with 4:38 remaining in regulation time.
Just like he did as a kid stickhandling a tennis ball, growing up on Vancouver’s east side.
“You remember playing hockey in your back yard and scoring big goals,”said Lucic who is leading Boston after an injury-plagued campaign last season limited him to nine goals.
“To be able to play a big game and get the game-winner here in front of my friends and family and all the Bruins fans that came out, it’s a great feeling.”
Nathan Horton, Lucic’s linemate along with David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron, into an empty net, also scored for Boston. Lucic also drew an assist on Bergeron’s goal.
“It was really tough last year going through what I went through,”Lucic said.“It wasn’t really fun going to the rink.”
But the 50th pick in the 2006 entry draft is“getting that feeling back, enjoying this experience.
“I’m getting to live my dream in the NHL. It really taught me you never take anything for granted.”
Manny Malhotra gave Vancouver a first-period lead as both Malhotra and Horton also scored on rebounds.
“Horts was really good, especially in front of the net,”said Boston coach Claude Julien.
“That’s the line we’ve been talking about coming together and helping us win some hockey games and they certainly did that tonight.”
The win was the fourth straight on the Bruins’six-game road trip as Boston improved to 35-19-7.
Boston remains four points ahead of Montreal in the battle for the Northeast Division lead and has two games in hand over the Canadiens.
Vancouver lost for the second time in three home games to slip to 39-15-9.
The Canucks lead Philadelphia by one point in the overall standings and are five ahead of Detroit in the battle for the Western Conference title.
Both the Flyers and Wings have a game in hand on Vancouver.
The game was a tight-checking affair along with a goaltenders’duel between Luongo, who stopped 22 shots while Tim Thomas blocked 27.
“It was a great win against one of the best teams in the NHL,”Thomas said of the battle between two division leaders.“To come in and grind out a win on their ice, it’s a big victory for us.
Thomas had to be sharp and needed help in the final seconds to preserve Lucic’s winner with Luongo lifted for an extra attacker.
“It was really nice to see him get that goal,”said Thomas, whose goals-against average is under two a game.“I wanted to make that hold up for the game-winner so bad.
“I made the save on (Mason) Raymond and almost hit it in the net but Zedeno (Chara) saved it for me.”
A video review confirmed the puck didn’t cross the line.
Luongo didn’t know how the play leading to Lucic’s goal developed.
“Someone took a shot, there was a bunch of guys in front of me, it hit something and I was looking for it and unfortunately it landed on Lucic’s stick,”he said.
The netminder said the Canucks can expect more tight games as they enter the regular-season stretch drive to the playoffs.
“We knew coming in that this was the type of game it was going to be. We were doing a pretty good job, I thought, with not much room out there in a very tight-checking affair.”
Henrik Sedin, who became entangled with Chara and couldn’t get back to defend on Lucic’s goal, said the Canucks’offence was throttled by the Bruins.
“We’ve got a team that most nights is going to create chances to win games, so we got unlucky,”Sedin said.
“They’re a good team. It was a game you want to be part of. Tonight they got the bounces.”
Boston defenceman Andrew Ference, hit hard in the first period by Canuck fourth-liner Victor Oreskovich, left the game after seven shifts with what the club called a lower body injury.
NOTES: Tomas Kaberle, obtained in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs, drew an assist on Horton’s goal, his first point in three games since joining the Bruins … It was the only meeting between the two teams this season … Boston continues its road swing Sunday in Edmonton … Veteran defenceman Shane Hnidy was in Vancouver after signing a one-year contract with the Bruins. He hasn’t been cleared to play since suffering a shoulder injury in the Phoenix Coyotes’training camp … Vancouver winger Jeff Tambellini, who hasn’t scored for 23 games, missed his third straight contest as a healthy scratch.