BOSTON – It doesn’t much matter what the reasons were behind Brad Marchand finally starting to resemble the guy he was during the regular season in Game 1 of the playoffs second round against the New York Rangers.
It could certainly be that the Nose Face Killah matches up a little better with the Rangers players than he did against the Toronto Maple Leafs, or it could be the peace of mind after hitting the reset button after a difficult first round series.
It could even be that Marchand is truly a little banged up after exiting morning skate early on Thursday amid some pretty clear spasms of pain during a 2-on-1 drill. Marchand tried to explain it as an aversion to morning skates, but perhaps the right winger got a visit from Dr. Feelgood prior to Game 1 against the Blueshirts.
“I wasn’t worried at all. I’m serious. I just wanted to get off the ice. Claude [Julien] knows I hate morning skates,” said Marchand. “He used to yell at me when we won the [Stanley] Cup there because I wouldn’t even take a stride. I just wanted to get off early.”
Whatever the reason, Marchand was playing without restrictions or inhibition in Game 1 against the Rangers and proved it by tucking home the overtime game-winning score in Boston’s 3-2 win over New York at TD Garden.
The goal was a classic overtime transition score: Zdeno Chara poke-checked the puck away from the Rangers, and set off Patrice Bergeron and Marchand on an odd-man rush into New York’s end of the ice. Marchand beat Mats Zuccarello to the net, and Bergeron connected on a backdoor pass before the right winger tucked the puck between the impenetrable Henrik Lundqvist’s pads for the game-winner.
It was Marchand’s first playoff goal this spring after notching three assists against Toronto in the first round, and it marks his first postseason goal since Game 5 against the Washington Capitals last season.
It wasn’t just the goal for the 25-year-old, however. Marchand finished with three shots on goal and three takeaways in 22:17 of ice time, and had a couple of his patented rushes to the net while dangling through defenders. Through his struggles Marchand wasn’t taking the puck to the net or carrying it through traffic to create chances for his teammates, but he was doing all of that on Thursday night.
“I felt good tonight. I felt pretty good last game, too,” said Marchand, who credited a text message from former teammate Mark Recchi telling him “to play my game and not to worry about anything else” with providing clarity and inspiration prior to Thursday night’s game. “Obviously, the Toronto series wasn’t my best series, but I felt good tonight and just want to keep building on it.
“It’s a whole new series and we’re happy to play the Rangers. They’re a very good team and a very good battle. We took a little bit of heat in that last round against Toronto. It’s nice to finally get one there and get the monkey off the back. Hopefully they keep coming.”
The only question now is whether Julien is going to allow Marchand to continue skipping out early on the morning skates if he can produce efforts like the one that helped defeat the Blueshirts. The Bruins coach would only say that whatever bothered his right wing on Thursday morning was “very minor.” Perhaps it was indeed extremely minor, or perhaps the talented forward is playing through something as so many other players are as well during the playoff season.
Either way subterfuge is the order of the day when it comes to injuries and defining them during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“There was nothing there. It might have looked major to you guys, but it was very minor. That’s why I said, ‘He’s going to be fine tonight.’ I think that’s what he needed to do, get off the ice early so he could score that winning goal,” said Julien. “Whatever works is good for us.
“I thought that was one of [Marchand’s] better games so far in the playoffs. He skated well, made some great plays, he took pucks to the net and that’s the Brad Marchand that we know. It was nice to see him really bring his A-game to the table tonight.”
It was startling to see Marchand playing like the same effective player that led the Bruins with 18 goals scored during the regular season, and underscored how much he’d been underperforming against the Maple Leafs. Now the Bruins will be counting on their Nose Face Killah to be back to full strength for the rest of the series vs. the Rangers and beyond, and that will go a long way toward seeing exactly how good the Black and Gold can be this spring.