Milan Lucic turns back the clock in first game with Bruins in 8 years


“It was a lot of fun to hear the “Loooooch” chants in Boston again.”

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) is embraced by Milan Lucic after his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, in Boston.
Milan Lucic and the Bruins opened the 2023-24 season with a 3-1 win over Chicago. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

On a night when the Boston Bruins paid tribute to the legends woven through a century of hockey, it should come as little surprise that Milan Lucic also managed to defy Father Time.

For the first time in over 3,000 days, Lucic skated back on the TD Garden ice in a black-and-gold sweater.

And even during a ceremony where franchise fixtures like Bobby Orr, Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, and Ray Bourque arrived on Causeway Street, it’s a testament to the reputation Lucic cultivated here that he received one of the loudest ovations in Boston’s season opener.

“Just being back here at the TD Garden and the flow of things and back on the home side with this crowd and all that, it was good to be back all and all … “It was a lot of fun to hear the “Loooooch” chants in Boston again,” Lucic said.

He may not be the same top-six stalwart he was during his first stint in Boston, nor did he re-introduce himself to a packed Garden crowd by way of a few right hooks.

But if Boston’s season-opening victory over the Blackhawks is any indication, it seems like Lucic might have a bit more left in the tank than many initially thought.

“I thought Milan, he’s had a really good camp and he’s carrying it over,” Jim Montgomery said after Boston’s 3-1 victory over Chicago. “He came here in tremendous shape. And not only what you guys see on the ice, but the way he’s talking on the bench.

“He’s taken over a real important leadership role of talking about how to build our team game, about the important details. … It’s just good reminders and it means more to teammates when it comes from a player.”

On a Bruins roster still undergoing some seismic changes up front, the 35-year-old Lucic was oftentimes an immovable force on Boston’s checking unit. He logged 13:39 of ice time on Wednesday, setting up David Pastrnak’s first of two goals by way of a crisp backhand dish — his first point as a Bruin since March 31, 2015.

It was a sight drawn straight out of the 2014-15 campaign, when Lucic first started to log reps alongside a fresh-faced rookie out of the Czech Republic.

“Having a guy like that come in, you see how much respect he has right away in the league, not only in this room,” Brandon Carlo said of Lucic’s impact. “And it’s funny to see at times when he’s on the ice with the puck, the seas just part at times. … But off the ice, it’s been amazing.

“His role can definitely be a little bit more of getting on you at times if your effort isn’t there, or something like that. And vice versa, we’re gonna respect the heck out of that if he is telling you to do that.”

His days as a 30-goal menace at the netfront might be a thing of the past. But Lucic’s 6-foot-3, 236-pound frame and his propensity to dole out punishment hasn’t withered over time.

Slotted next to two youngsters in Johnny Beecher and Jakub Lauko, Lucic and Boston’s fourth line routinely made life miserable for the Blackhawks.

“I can tell you — going back on pucks with that guy coming down your back is not fun at all,” Carlo acknowledged. “So we’ll try and chip them in and let the other defenseman deal with it.”

In the 5:43 of 5v5 ice time that the Lucic-Beecher-Lauko line logged against Chicago, the Bruins held a 9-2 edge in shot attempts and a 2-0 advantage in high-danger scoring chances. Even though Lucic isn’t exactly the type of player adept at winning footraces, two fleet-footed skaters in Lauko and Beecher regularly put Chicago on its heels as the first men on the puck.

And with Lucic able to slow the pace of play to the same speed as a Green Line trolley car while shielding the puck along the boards, that fourth line can be a potent mix if given more O-zone reps.

“It opens up the ice so much,” Carlo explained of that line’s varied skillset. “If we can get the puck up to them, they’re gonna skate as fast as they can to get it over the red line and kind of create a lot of stuff in the offensive zone with the way that they’re able to cycle the puck, hold on to it, as well as use their speed and get in on the forecheck and win some battles.

“That’s going to result in a lot of offensive-zone time, as well as just more opportunities at the net front because they’re not going to be afraid or shy to get in front of the net and bang some pucks home.”

Lucic’s play eventually led to Montgomery bumping the power forward up to the top-six unit for a solid stretch of Wednesday’s win, including more reps next to Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha.

You might be setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect Lucic to rekindle his scoring touch and resemble the player who potted David Krejci saucer feeds night in and night out.

But for one night in October, Lucic looked no different from the imposing force who made Bruins fans cheer with every check delivered against the Garden glass.

“Obviously, it’s a special time in your life,” Lucic said of soaking in Wednesday’s centennial-season ceremonies. “So to be able to come back to a place that’s so special to me, it’s good to have emotion and show emotion.”