Haggerty: Marchand's Hart Trophy candidacy is very real

Haggerty: Marchand's Hart Trophy candidacy is very real

With each passing game, the unlikely Hart Trophy candidacy grows for Bruins left winger Brad Marchand.

Marchand picked up the second hat trick of his career in a 6-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night at the Rogers Centre and powered home the tying and winning goals in the comeback for the Black and Gold to kick off their Western Canada trip. 

Marchand is tied with Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead with 35 goals and is tied with Crosby for second in the NHL with a career-high 74 points after his four-point effort Monday night.

The real jewel of the third-period goal explosion was the game-winner, where he pick-pocketed Henrik Sedin and stole the puck from the Canucks captain at the half-wall, dangled it through Alex Edler’s legs on his way to the net and then flipped a backhanded bid past goalie Ryan Miller. 

It was the kind of game-winning, tone-setting play that you typically see from an MVP candidate and it’s exactly the kind of thing Marchand has done on a regular basis while scoring 25 goals in his last 28 games bringing the Black and Gold offense to life.

One of constants of so many of those goals has been the 5-foot-9, 181-pound Marchand attacking the net and going to the danger areas despite usually being the smallest guy out on the ice. He also has tied Patrice Bergeron for the B’s team lead with his seventh game-winning goal of the season. Combine that with the improved vision and puck awareness that’s allowed him to rack up a career-high 39 assists this season, and you have an all-around, elite player in the prime of his career creating an extremely worthy follow-up to last season's “career year” with 37 goals.

“You have to learn to adapt and change and you also pick up different techniques that guys use over the years and find different ways to create some space. Now with the game being quicker and the guys being a little more agile, it’s tough to continually cut back on them in the corner, especially most teams swarm down there and have three or four guys,” said Marchand after Saturday’s win over the Flyers. “You know the big thing is to just try to get the puck out of the area and either change sides, go behind the net and try to find some space. Stuff happens quickly out there and you learn to read plays a little bit better than maybe you did early on and it could be a mix of a few things.”

Clearly, it’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle in Hart Trophy voting for a sometimes-pest in Marchand who's gone way over the edge, and paid the price in suspensions, in his past history in Boston. Fellow elite NHL players, like the aforementioned Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid and Brent Burns, are also posting excellent seasons for playoff-caliber teams. None of them has the complicated, checkered past that Marchand does in a league that sometimes wants everything to be a little too squeaky clean.

But Marchand is on pace for 42 goals and 88 points, has spearheaded this Bruins surge to the playoffs and has raised his profile with Team Canada and NHL All-Star appearances already this season. Provided he can finish strong in the final 14 games, the Nose Face Killah is fully deserving of consideration for the Hart Trophy given to the Most Valuable Player in the league and he’ll get it from this humble hockey writer in a wonderful NHL success story of a guy that’s gone from fourth-line annoyance to elite MVP candidate in seven transformative seasons.

The Hart Trophy candidacy for Boston’s trouble-making Marchand might be a little surprising, but it’s very, very real at this point. 

Morning Skate: Guy Boucher proves to be a man of the people

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Morning Skate: Guy Boucher proves to be a man of the people

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while putting the pieces together now that the hockey season is O-V-A-H here in Boston. 
 
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Bruce Arthur takes a look at the end of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who put on a good show with their young, talented crew. 
 
-- In the interest of self-promotion, here is this morning’s interview with Toucher and Rich where I talked about the Bruins taking a step forward despite their season being over. 
 
-- He might look and sound like a Bond Villain, but Guy Boucher was far from it in stopping to shake hands with Senators fans at the airport after their playoff win over the B’s. 
 
-- Interesting that John Stevens is named head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, since the change isn’t expected to be a big departure from what was already going on there. 
 
-- The San Jose Sharks are all done for this season, and one wonders if GM Doug Wilson is going to have to choose between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau moving forward. 

 -- Speaking of the Senators, PHT writer James O’Brien has Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson making Ottawa’s playoff victory all the more emotional

 -- For something completely different: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is coming to a theatre near you soon, and here’s a review. I’m looking forward to this one.

Haggerty: Cassidy should be rewarded for a job well done

Haggerty: Cassidy should be rewarded for a job well done

BOSTON -- After the Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, nearly every player was in agreement in identifying the turning point of the season:

The coaching change.

The B's went 18-8-1 in the regular season after Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien and rallied to make the playoffs after a late-season, four-game tailspin had them in danger of missing out for the third straight year. And despite being ravaged by injuries, they showed fight and spirit in pushing Ottawa to six games, including a road victory in a double-overtime, Game 5 thriller, before eventually succumbing in overtime, 3-2, on Sunday.

Certainly there were moments of sloppiness -- ill-timed penalties, moments when the Bruins simply couldn't bust through Ottawa's 1-3-1 trap -- but Boston's gutty playoff showing, coupled with the regular-season surge, makes it seem clear Cassidy deserves to be awarded the full-time head coaching gig. 

Several Bruins players voiced their endorsement of Cassidy on Sunday, lauding him for bringing energy, offensive thrust, and open-mindedness to using younger players. 

"The results speak for themselves," said David Backes, who played some of his best hockey in Games 5 and 6 once he was paired with center Sean Kuraly. "We were climbing uphill when [Cassidy] took over and we made our way [to the playoffs] . . . [He] certainly did a heck of a job."

And how does Cassidy -- who had gone more than 13 years since his last NHL head coaching job before replacing Julien on an interim basis, and spending the previous eight seasons at the AHL level in Providence -- feel? 

"Absolutely. 100 percent," said Cassidy, when asked if he wanted the Boston job on a permanent basis.

And if he got it, perhaps those improvements would continue.

"Maybe a full year with him, he changes a few things," said Backes.

"That will be determined going forward by management whether I continue to be the head coach, and what players will be here will [also] be determined by management," said Cassidy. "So it's a tough question to answer [on what improvements need to be made]. I think we scored some goals this year. We were good on the rush as well and the power play . . . and we were always a good forechecking team. This series took on a personality that we were going to have to score on the forecheck. 

"I thought that's why you see guys like [Noel] Acciari and Kuraly get into the lineup and really contribute. It's the strength of their game, and maybe less so from other guys that are more line rush guys. Don't forget, we had a lot of neophytes going into this series in terms of National Hockey League playoffs. So there's a learning curve for them and that's part of the growth process that we hope that, if we're sitting here next year at this time talking about advancing, that they learn something from this year. That's what every team goes through and the [David] Pastrnaks of the world, [Charlie] McAvoy . . . pick your players that are new to it, and [they] have to learn from [it]."

The decision to start Anton Khudobin in Brooklyn late in the regular season after the Bruins had lost four in a row was a turning point-type move, where Cassidy certainly pushed some buttons with No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask. And his insertion of Kuraly for Ryan Spooner in Game 5 worked on every level, and probably prolonged the series. So give him credit for both of those things along with the pumped-up offense he helped orchestrate in the final few months of the regular season. 

The Bruins won't be making any public statements or pronouncements on Monday, but one has to assume Cassidy holds the inside track on the job after guiding the team back into the playoffs for the first time in three years. Certainly there may be courtesy interviews for other candidates like Providence College coach Nate Leaman, but it's difficult to see anything else Cassidy would have to accomplish to be fit for the position. 

As Backes said himself, the results speak for themselves.