CALGARY — Few players in the NHL wear their emotions quite like Milan Lucic.
Whether it’s his legendary scowl, a radiant smile, or something in between, his intensity is always on full display.
On Thursday we saw it all.
In the morning, with his team coming off a win and still just four back of Winnipeg, he was typically engaging and insightful with the media.
His jubilant goal celebration Thursday night was followed by a crushing loss he punctuated by staring straight ahead, seething, as he struggled to find words to explain how his team could come out flat at such a desperate time.
This has been a tough, tough year for the 34-year-old Calgary Flames winger, who has six goals, five healthy scratches, three fights and an interesting summer ahead in which the pending UFA hopes to extend his playing career.
However, it’s the team’s play and (mis)fortunes that plague his mind.
Plenty to contemplate and weigh, which explains why he hasn’t been able to mask the disappointment and frustration eating away at him.
“I do wear it maybe a little too much, but that’s who I am,” said Lucic, whose typically upbeat approach has been put to the test this season.
“It’s what made me a good player, and passionate.
“But sometimes you’ve got to sit back and change your mindset.”
Going home to his wife, son and two daughters helps.
But even there, he admits it’s impossible to exit the roller-coaster ride he and his team have been riding since last spring.
“My wife knows I care, and I live it, and I love it,” said Lucic of a game he’s unsure how long he’ll be able to play.
“I’m not one of those guys that shuts it off.
“I do watch hockey when I’m not playing it.”
There’s no distracting him from the overwhelming takeaway of the Flames season, which is one of shocking underperformance.
“It’s tough because, to be honest, I don’t really think I’ve ever been in this position,” said the league’s heavyweight champ, who has only missed the playoffs four times in his previous 15 seasons.
“That’s what I always tell everybody, ‘You can have the exact same team and every year is completely different.’
“It’s another learning curve and journey in the NHL.
“It’s not over yet.”
He has to say that.
He can’t possibly believe it anymore, with his team needing to make up seven points on Winnipeg with just nine games left.
None of this is to mention the threat of Nashville, which sits one up on the Flames with three games in hand.
“It’s hard and it’s frustrating because there are games where we outplay teams, and play the way we’re supposed to, but the frustrating part is you don’t get the result,” said Lucic.
“(15) overtime losses.
“(22) times we’ve outshot a team by 10 or more and we lose the game.
“That’s why it wears on you more than usual because you’re doing the right things, sticking to the process, playing to what you’re supposed to but sometimes it comes down to a bounce here or there.
“Sounds like an excuse, but when you get a bounce you have confidence, you walk into the rink knowing and believing you’re going to win and create opportunities and believing you’ll score.”
Lucic’s vintage finish Thursday got the Flames back into a 2-0 game that threatened to get out of hand.
However, in the end, a third period push wasn’t enough to tie the game, leaving the Flames as the only team in the league that has yet to post a third period comeback win.
“I think what’s also the frustrating and disappointing part is when you look at it on paper, we should be at the top, fighting for a division right now,” said Lucic, whose club won the Pacific Division last season.
“We’re not, and we have to scratch and claw and put together a hell of a run here to give ourselves a chance.
“You’ve still got to believe.
“We’ve seen teams do it in the past.”
Two weeks ago, Lucic, a true historian of the game, cited examples like the 2012 L.A. Kings (12-4-3 to finish), the 2015 Ottawa Senators (14 points out of playoffs in February) and the 2019 Colorado Avalanche, who not only made late pushes to get into playoffs, but all made considerable noise once there.
“You’ve got to stick to the process, and everything else should take care of itself,” he reiterated.
“It’s not this time, which is unfortunate.”
Just how unfortunate is written all over his face.