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. 

Bruins sign pair of draft picks, including BC's Fitzgerald, to entry-level deals

Bruins sign pair of draft picks, including BC's Fitzgerald, to entry-level deals

Amidst the current turmoil at the NHL level, the Bruins delivered a little good news about the future today . . . with more potentially to come. 

The Bruins announced the signing of a pair of prospects/former draft picks -- Boston College forward Ryan Fitzgerald and defenseman Emil Johansson -- to entry-level contracts that will kick in next season. There will likely be another wave of signings with the Bruins from the amateur ranks once players like Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson are finished up with their college teams in the NCAA tournament, though it remains to be seen exactly which players end up taking the NHL plunge. 

There was some uncertainty as to whether Fitzgerald would definitely sign with Boston after completing his senior season at BC, but he will immediately join the Providence Bruins on an amateur tryout agreement after signing a two-year deal. Johansson will join the Bruins on a Professional Tryout Agreement with a three-year entry level deal that kicks off next season. 

The 5-foot-10, 177-pound Fitzgerald was an alternate captain for BC in 2016-17, with 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 34 games with 56 penalty minutes and a plus-14 rating. Fitzgerald is also the son of Billerica native and former Bruins forward Tommy Fitzgerald, who took to Twitter on Friday to voice his overwhelming pride over his oldest signing an NHL contract. He was a fourth-round pick by the Bruins in 2013.

Johansson, 20, completed his first season with Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League in 2016-17, establishing career highs with 7 goals and 10 assists for 17 points with 26 penalty minutes in 49 games. The B's selected him in the seventh round in 2014.

Rask given maintenance day as Bruins return to practice

Rask given maintenance day as Bruins return to practice

BRIGHTON -- The Bruns got back to work on Friday, but were without their No. 1 goaltender for practice at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of their biggest game of the season Saturday night against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center 

Tuukka Rask was given a maintenance day after playing three games in four days, and Matt Beleskey was also missing “on family leave." The off-day for Rask could have very well about getting away from the rink mentally as it was physically; he has a 3-6-0 record during the month of March. 

Interim coach Bruce Cassidy said after practice that he wouldn’t be making a decision on his starting goalie in Brooklyn until Saturday, but it would be stunning if Rask didn't play.

“We’ll see how things clear up . . . and see where we’re at,” said Cassidy of any Bruins lineup changes against the Isles. “We’ll know by then. [The starting goalie] will be determined tomorrow. I don’t want to get out in front of it, to be honest with you.”

Here are the line combos and D-pairings based on Friday’s practice, with Cassidy uncertain of any changes he might make between now and Saturday night: 
 
Marchand-Bergeron-Backes
Stafford-Krejci-Backes
Vatrano-Spooner-Hayes
Moore-Nash-Acciari
 
Chara-Carlo
Krug-McQuaid
C. Miller-K. Miller