On the ice, there was a lot for the Bruins to celebrate Saturday night. They honored the “Big Bad Bruins” of the 1970s, the most beloved group in franchise history, before the game for the second of their centennial Era Nights. Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson and more than a dozen others were on hand, and they got to raise their 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup banners for the first time (banner-raising ceremonies were not yet a tradition back then).
Skate Pod Mailbag: How long will Lohrei stick around?
Once the game started, the Bruins dominated the archrival Canadiens. They scored twice in the first period and twice more in the second, all while doubling up Montreal in shots, en route to a 5-2 win that improved their record to an NHL-best 13-1-2. Trent Frederic scored twice, David Pastrnak had three assists, Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle each had multi-point games as well, and Jeremy Swayman stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced to improve to 7-0-1 on the season.
Off the ice, however, Saturday was anything but celebratory for the Bruins organization. Late Friday night, veteran forward Milan Lucic was arrested following a domestic incident at his home in Boston. According to WBZ, Lucic’s wife told police that he attacked and choked here. Lucic is taking an indefinite leave from the team. It would not be surprising if that leave becomes permanent at some point, especially if the WBZ report is true.
As Bruins coach Jim Montgomery acknowledged in his morning press conference, Saturday was “not a normal day.”
Captain Brad Marchand was drafted by Boston the same year as Lucic back in 2006, and has been friends with him pretty much ever since. He had his own emotions to work through Saturday while also trying to make sure he and his teammates were ready to play the Habs.
“Obviously, I’ve known Looch for a long time,” Marchand said Saturday morning. “He’s a very good friend. It’s tough to see your teammates and your friends going through stuff like this, and their families. So yeah, definitely worried about Britt and the kids, and Looch himself. But they have all the support in the world. Anything they need, we’re gonna be here for them.
“With things like this, we’re all people,” he added. “They obviously have an effect on you. But the biggest thing we can do is come in and do our job. We have to come and just focus on the game. The biggest thing is just trying to stay in the moment. … Obviously there’s times where you can control that better than others, but you just have to come to the rink every day, compete, and try to do the best we can.”
The Bruins did that Saturday night. They not only did their job, but they played perhaps their most complete game of the season. It may be tempting to search for some sort of cause-and-effect here, to wonder if Saturday might have been some kind of unifying moment for the team.
There are no silver linings when it comes to a situation like Lucic’s, though. This is not the same kind of adversity as a blown third-period lead or a three-game losing streak. These are two different arenas of life. One thing is a disturbing allegation of domestic violence. The other is just a hockey game.
The Bruins were able to compartmentalize those two things and beat the Canadiens. It doesn’t mean the Lucic situation is now behind them or that they’ll be just fine as people and hockey players. As of Saturday night, Lucic remains their teammate. This story will remain in the news. There will be more questions to answer.
A year ago, right around this time, the Bruins had to deal with a different unforeseen distraction, when team management decided to sign troubled defenseman Mitchell Miller, only to then cut ties with him just a couple days later amid overwhelming blowback from both fans and Bruins players themselves.
This is not really the same. The Bruins’ players did not know Miller. They had never met him. He never set foot in their locker room nor skated with them in practice. Moving on from him was a mess for the organization, but relatively easy for the players.
Lucic is actually part of the team, at least for now. While he has missed the last month due to injury, he did play four games for them. He was supposed to help fill the leadership void created by the departures of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, while bringing Cup credentials, some on-ice snarl, and an understanding of what it means to be a Bruin. All of that may very well be out the window now.
On the ice, the Bruins may be fine, just as they were Saturday night. They’ve already gone 9-1-2 without Lucic. The fourth line has remained effective with Jakub Lauko and Oskar Steen stepping up on Johnny Beecher’s flanks. Danton Heinen has shown he can fit anywhere in the bottom six. Morgan Geekie, out since Nov. 6, will be back at some point.
Off the ice, no one is asking or expecting Bruins players to completely ignore what’s going on with Lucic. That would probably be impossible. What they’ll try to do is what Marchand saw his teammates do Saturday: focus on hockey when they’re at the rink and leave everything else outside.
“All we can really do is worry about the things we can control,” Marchand said postgame. “That’s focusing on the gameplan that’s being put in place and communicating with each other, just reminding each other what’s going on, and our effort levels. The biggest thing every night that you can control is how hard you work, your compete level.
“I thought everybody just came in and kind of left everything that’s been going on at the door, and just focused on doing their job. We have a tremendous amount of trust with one another that we’re going to do our jobs when we step on the ice. That’s just kind of how it played out tonight. We trusted each other that we were gonna show up and be prepared, kind of check everything at the door and come to play.”