BOSTON -- Milan Lucic was absolutely thrilled to be back with the Bruins after signing a one-year contract with the team in NHL free agency over the summer.
“I’m looking forward to it really badly, because I’ve thought about this moment for the last seven years," Lucic said July 1, shortly after his return became official. "I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to put on the spoked-B, Black and Gold again. That’s why I’m so grateful for this opportunity."
That moment finally arrived Wednesday night, and it didn't disappoint.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Boston sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Lucic was re-introduced to Bruins fans before puck drop of the season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.
There were a lot of energetic and emotional ovations during player introductions, and also before when the Bruins honored their Centennial Team with legends like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Patrice Bergeron in attendance. One of the most raucous cheers was for Lucic. He was, is, and always will be a fan favorite in this region.
"It was great," Lucic said of the ovation. "I was really looking forward to it. It was a real special moment for me. And it was great to see some former teammates, too. I didn't really know what the pregame ceremony was going to be and who was going to be here. But it was great to see those guys as well."
Lucic played most of the game as the fourth-line left wing alongside rookie center John Beecher and right wing Jakub Lauko. This line consistently played with speed and physicality, and the results speak for themselves.
More Bruins coverage
The Bruins had a 9-2 advantage in shot attempts, a 5-1 edge in shots on net and a 3-1 lead in scoring chances during this trio's 5:43 of 5-on-5 ice time together, per Natural Stat Trick. The ice was consistently tilted in Boston's favor with its fourth line on the ice, and that kind of bottom-six production is really important if this team is going to accomplish its ultimate goal.
"It was good. I thought we had a good start," Lucic said when asked about his line's performance. "Our shifts were good. We spent the majority of the time in the offensive zone. We created a penalty, and even the first shift we created a scoring chance off the get-go. We're three guys who play straight-line hockey and use our size and speed. It provides the team energy and gives us success."
Lucic had a couple shifts with David Pastrnak, too, including one in the second period that resulted in the game-winning goal. Lucic got the puck at center ice and made a nifty backhand pass to Pastrnak after entering the attacking zone. The superstar right wing fired a shot past Blackhawks goalie Arvid Soderblom to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
The assist for Lucic was his first point as a member of the Bruins since March 31, 2015.
Lucic isn't a consistent top-six player anymore. He's not going to score 25-plus goals and rack up a ton of power-play time. But he can still be very effective as someone who provides toughness, a big body in front of the net, the ability to win puck battles in the dirty areas of the ice, and even some offense here and there.
The veteran winger's impact isn't just felt on the ice. Lucic is a respected voice in the locker room and on the bench, and Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery loved the leadership he displayed at critical junctures of the game Wednesday night.
"I thought Milan had a really good camp and he's carried it over," Montgomery said. "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 taking over a real important leadership role of talking about how to build our team game, about the importance of the details. He was saying, 'Last two minutes of the first (period), gotta get pucks in and get pucks out.' It's just good reminders, and it means more to teammates when it comes from a player."
There will be plenty of games this season when the Bruins need a boost of energy, and don't be surprised if it's often Lucic providing that spark with a fight, a huge hit or a verbal message to the team.
After losing a lot of veteran leaders over the last couple years with the retirements of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and others, Lucic's presence and championship pedigree should help make him a valuable player for the B's this season.