Milan Lucic finds success with linemate

BOSTON -- For the first time his young four-year career in the NHL, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic has reached the 20-goal plateau.

Now, the Bruins need him to score a lot more.

His 20th goal of the season, a laser of a shot from the top of the circle off a face off at 1:52 of the second period Wednesday night, proved to be the game-winner in Boston's 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.

"It feels good," Lucic said of reaching 20 goals. "That was the big question coming in from myself and a lot of people -- if I would be able to get to that mark. It came a lot quicker than I thought, but more importantly, it was a big goal and it helped the team win."

The big man is pile-driving the puck past opposing goaltenders this season and he's regained his scoring touch after a disappointing season a year ago, when he dealt with a serious high-ankle sprain for the majority of the season.

Lucic reached 16 goals by Dec. 16 but went on an 11-game skid without lighting the lamp. That drought was followed by an upper-body injury that forced him to miss three games. Since his return, he's posted five points in the past six games.

He's healthy and dangerous once again.

"He's one of those guys that's building consistency in his game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "What should I expect from him? I should expect him to continue playing a physical game. We should expect him to continue to produce because he's capable of doing that.

"He's one of those guys that really rises to the occasion, so you hope that continues, as well."

Maybe the key to that is keeping Lucic and centerman David Krejci together.

Lucic has played with fellow winger Nathan Horton for the majority of the season and they've had a couple of different centermen on that line. While Lucic will credit all of his linemates that he's played with, it's apparent he's comfortable when Krejci dishes him the puck.

"He's a big part of our team, and when he's going, he's unstoppable," Lucic said of Krejci. "He's a guy who plays big minutes. He's out there in key moments, and when he's going, he's really helping this team out. This year we've been able to feed off each other a lot, and we need to keep doing that in order to be successful."

Krejci is confident in his own ability but he also realizes that playing with Lucic is crucial to the team's success. Seeing Lucic reach 20 goals at this point of the season is a direct result of that.

"It's good, especially when he's on my line," Krejci said with a smile. "I'm trying to create some chances and he's doing a good job capitalizing on those. I think he could have more goals, but I'm happy he's got 20 so far. I don't want him to stop. We need him as much as we need myself to create chances for him, so hopefully we'll continue to do that and everybody will be happy."

That chemistry almost went kaput with 7:32 remaining in the first period against the Panthers.

Krejci collided with Florida defenseman Rostislav Olesz in the corner and the Bruins' center crashed awkwardly into the boards.

Krejci remained on the ice, holding his left arm in pain.

He said after the game it wasn't his shoulder that took the brunt of the collision, but he did tweak the rest of his arm. He was uncomfortable and that's why he remained on the ice for a brief moment before trainer Don DelNegro attended to him.

Krejci went down the tunnel and remained in the hallway outside the locker room and had a team doctor give him a quick examination. Fortunately, he was able to return to action and did not miss a shift.

"It's sore but obviously nothing major," Krejci said.

Even Lucic was a little nervous when he saw his linemate lie on the ice in agony.

"It was a relief that he did come back," Lucic said. "After losing Savvy [Marc Savard], you don't want to see another key centerman going down. It was great he was able to tough it out, recover and keep going."

Not only did he recover, Krejci returned and won the key faceoff the next period that led to Lucic's game-winning goal.

"When he first went down, the last thing you want to see is for him not to come back," Julien said. "We're already minus one centerman [Savard] so you certainly don't want to lose that second one. But he came back and he finished the game and seems to be OK. There's no doubt these next five days will be good for him. We certainly didn't need him going down and not getting him back."

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, and the Bruins find themselves atop the Northeast Division, the next few days off will give the players a much-needed hiatus before it's back to business on Monday.

Reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs, and advancing past the second round, remains the goal for the Bruins. For that to happen, the continued success of Lucic and Krejci is crucial.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.