BOSTON – It’s hard to believe now, but it was almost a monumental dud of a postseason for Bruins pest Brad Marchand.
The agitating left winger had only a pair of assists and a minus-1 rating in the first six games of the playoff series in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s said since then that he didn’t have his legs, or perhaps he was still fighting his way through the grueling end of the regular season when injuries and exhaustion took a chunk out of all the Bruins.
Rock-bottom appeared to be Games 5 and 6 of the first round when Marchand managed just a single shot on net, was a minus-2 and seemed to be way off his normal energetic game.
Either way, Marchand famously assisted on Patrice Bergeron’s game-winner in the overtime of Game 7 against the Leafs, and has been agitating, scoring and making in impact on Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals ever since. Marchand has 4 goals and 7 assists in the last 10 playoff games, and managed to annoy, vex and infuriate just about every member of the Penguins in the conference finals.
The piece de rat resistance was getting into a shoving match with Matt Cooke in Game 2 long enough to distract the Penguins cheap shot artist, and then leave him in the dust before roofing a wrist shot over Marc-Andre Fleury for Boston’s fourth goal of the first period.
The goal was also Marchand’s second of the game, and signaled to his linemates that he was climbing out of the slump.
“When you see [him skating well] you can tell, and the way he shoots the puck, also. He finds every loose puck,” said Bergeron. “[When he’s going well] he’s turning the puck well, he’s first on pucks and finding loose pucks all the time. That's what you need from a guy like him.”
His second goal in Game 2 against Pittsburgh came on the heels of one of Pittsburgh’s only two goals in the four-game series, and effectively served as the Marchand-authored gut punch that the Penguins would never recover from. It also made Cooke appear more the chump on the big stage than any number and beating from a Bruins tough guy.
For the irritant who bothered Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Brenden Morrow et al in the series, he felt as though it was mission accomplished.
“I think so. It’s just how the game goes out there," Marchand said. "The tempers are flaring a bit, especially when we’re this far into playoffs, guys are . . . their tempers are going. There’s a lot of intensity out there.
“It’s just kind of right there in your face all the time; guys are always going after each other. It’s fun to be a part of.”
Marchand is even repenting for the few sins he’s making on the ice. In the second period of Game 4 he went off for two straight penalties, including in interference penalty behind the play that wasn’t a very wise choice. Rather than droop his shoulders and head back to the bench when his penalty was over, Marchand jumped into the offensive zone, played keep-a-way with the puck and ended up drawing a hooking penalty from Brenden Morrow that cancelled out his miscue.
The offensive production, constant attacking in the opponent’s face and the seemingly unending line of energy for the Little Ball of Hate are all indicators that Marchand is ramping up to the highest levels of his game with the Stanley Cup Finals upon his team.
There’s no denying he’s pretty excited to be back there for the second time in three years. And who could blame him after abusing one of the Sedin twins like a speedbag in 2011?
“It’s an incredible feeling. I don’t think it’s ever one that you can really describe. I think it just gets better and better every time,” said Marchand. “It was unbelievable to win that first one [Stanley Cup], but being back in the Finals and having the opportunity to go after another one, it feels the exact same. We’re very excited.”
That’s good, because Marchand’s mission will be assisting his line in containing Patrick Kane just as the Hawks winger is catching fire. It won’t be easy, but Marchand has found the right balance of annoying and effective offense that will make him a handful to deal with as well.