Two-year-old Milan Lucic Jr. is far more interested in trucks and mini-sticks than comprehending why his father is reachable only by Facetime these days.
But in those daily catch-ups with his three kids, Milan Lucic Sr. has used props to demonstrate why he’s back in Calgary without them, chasing a dream he realized nine years ago in Boston, before any of them were born.
“I’ve shown them pictures and highlights and all that type of stuff of me winning the Stanley Cup in 2011,” said the 32-year-old Flames winger Thursday.
“I explain, especially to my daughters, ‘This is what I’m trying to do again. And wouldn’t it be so cool if we could have our day with it as a family?’ The girls got really excited when I brought that up.”
Lucic needn’t roll out video scrapbooks for his teammates to remind them he’s the only one in the Flames dressing room to have hoisted the Cup.
His daily banter since the lads reconvened does it for him.
“He’s on us every day that we have to get ready and there’s no messing around for the playoffs — he’s vocal about that,” said Rasmus Andersson.
“He’s obviously a leader on and off the ice, and once it starts we’re going to see how much of a leader he is.”
In an exchange of burdensome contracts, Lucic was acquired for James Neal last summer with an eye on adding moxie, experience and leadership to a youngish bunch.
His 114 games of experience are 35 more than the Flames’ top six forwards combined, giving him cred a third-line mucker might not otherwise be entitled to.
Thankful he broke into the league on a veteran Bruins team full of playoff know-how, he recalls some of the early lessons that taught him what was required to have playoff success.
“I remember my first series in 2008 I was playing with Marc Savard and Glen Murray and I remember Murray telling me, ‘There’s no puck out there in the first five minutes — just make your presence felt.’ So, I think I did what I could to run around and make my physical presence felt more than anything.”
That’s the type of tone he’ll be expected to set alongside Dillon Dube and Derek Ryan Aug. 1 when Calgary opens its best-of-five qualifying series against the Jets in Edmonton.
They formed one of the Flames’ most effective scoring lines in the month leading up to the pause, which is why on a team as deep as the Flames there is pressure on them to come up with timely goals as well.
And he knows it.
“You can look at history, at all the Stanley Cup winners, and they get big goals from different guys at different times,” said Lucic, who scored four of his eight goals in the month preceding the pause.
“I look back the year we won, Michael Ryder had eight goals in that playoff run.
Rich Peverley had two goals in Game 4 against Vancouver in the Final. Chris Kelly scored some huge goals, and a lot of people forget Tyler Seguin was a young kid and he didn’t play the first two series, and came in for Game 2 against Tampa and had two goals and an assist to get us rolling in that series.”
No matter how long the Flames’ playoff ride lasts, the 12-year veteran knows there will be plenty of turbulence to deal with along the way, which is when he’ll remind his teammates it’s how they respond that matters most.
Against Colorado last year the response to an Avalanche of setbacks amounted to the franchise’s latest playoff faceplant, which he thinks could ultimately work in the Flames’ favour.
“I think, first and foremost, the mindset of the group is in the right spot just because of the bitterness of last year’s playoffs,” said Lucic, who was an Oiler back then.
“I definitely think the hunger is there. Guys came in in good shape and with a purpose the last two weeks, so far. The only way you gain experience is by experiencing all different types of situations. Sometimes it’s knowing when to push and when to settle the group down. That’s one way I can help, being a vocal guy and bringing what I can.”
As focused as Lucic is at turning around the mindset, focus and preparation of a team that has won just one of its last 11 playoff games, coach Geoff Ward wants it to be clear that no one is asking Lucic to do anything he isn’t capable of.
After all, Lucic felt that the added expectations in Edmonton contributed to his struggles there.
“There’s no added pressure in terms of what we need on the ice — just show up and play with intensity during the game,” said Ward, who coached Lucic as an assistant in Boston for the bulk of the winger’s playoff dates.
“He relishes this time of year — he enjoys playing in big moments,” said Ward.
“I don’t know if you guys remember the game against Toronto in Game 7 (in 2013) where they had a big lead late in the third period. He had a huge part in that comeback. We ended up scoring three times, and with the goalie out sent it into overtime. I believe he was in on two of the three goals (including a goal with 1:22 left.)
“He’s been in just about every situation you can see in the playoffs. He understands what it’s all about and knows how to handle the ups and downs. He’s going to give our dressing room a really solid rudder here as we move forward. He’s always been a guy that’s found opportunities to create key moments in playoff series.
“I’ve got a funny feeling he just may do it again.”