VANCOUVER (AP) — Boston forward Brad Marchand made as if he were dusting off his hands for a job well done as he skated past the Canucks’ bench after his last shift in Game 4 ended early with a hat trick of penalties: roughing, holding and tripping.
The Bruins went on to finish a convincing home-ice sweep, beating the Canucks in the corners and on the scoreboard to even the Stanley Cup finals at two games apiece. And Marchand was in the middle of most of it, agitating and scoring.
Marchand called his hand gesture “childish” and regretted the penalties. But the 23-year-old rookie stopped short of apologizing for the play that led to them, which he started by taking down two Canucks behind the Vancouver net before accepting a fight from a third.
In a Stanley Cup finals dragged quickly into the trenches of finger biting and face washing, Boston’s self-described “rat” has been able to get under the Canucks’ skin and put pucks in their net. To Marchand, the first part is simply a way to prepare for the second.
“I’m just trying to do what gets me into the game and if people think I’m being a pest, people think I’m being a pest,” Marchand said after returning to Vancouver for Game 5 Friday night. “It seems after every whistle there is a scrum and every play there is a lot of big body checks and contact. I’m not under anyone’s skin, it’s just there’s always scrums and I always get involved in them.”
In the two games in Boston, those scrums frequently involved Vancouver’s top forwards, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as Marchand combined with center Patrice Bergeron to help shut down the Canucks’ high-scoring twins. That the 5-foot-9 Marchand also has scored, including a pretty short-handed goal in Game 3 and a backbreaking third goal in Game 4, only infuriates the Canucks more.
For all the talk of Marchand the agitator, it’s easy to overlook his scoring touch. After 21 goals and 41 points in his first full NHL season, he’s added eight goals and 15 points so far in the playoffs.
“He’s always been an energy player, a good skater, but unfortunately he’s been looked upon in this league more as a pest, stirring things up,” coach Claude Julien said. “What people don’t know is he’s got really good skills. He’s got a great release, good shot, good speed. He’s very capable of playing a good game. Sometimes that gets overshadowed when other parts of his game take over.”
Those “other parts” captured the Canucks’ attention more than they’d like.
After touting themselves a whistle-to-whistle team while winning the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, Vancouver engaged the Bruins after the whistle while being blown out 8-1 in Game 3 and 4-0 in Game 4. The Canucks pledged all year to stay out of both those post-whistle scrums and the referee’s ears. But as the frustrations mount, former — and supposedly reformed — agitators such as Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler find themselves in the middle of more and more slashing, whacking and yapping — at Marchand, goalie Tim Thomas and the officials.
“Game 3 we got sucked in, but last game was better,” said Kevin Bieksa. “They are a team that likes to do the pushing and shoving and they got a lot of real good pushers after the whistle. They must have had an expert come in and show them how to push after the whistle.”
The Canucks said all year their plan was to turn the other cheek and punish any indiscretions with a power play ranked No.1 in the regular season. Vancouver entered the final clicking at 28.3 percent, a decided edge over a Boston man-advantage unit taking heat for its 8.2 percent success rate.
Since then, however, the Canucks have converted only one of 22 chances with the extra attacker, and that came on a broken play from the second unit, meaning the top line is 0-for the Cup finals.
Adding to the insult, Vancouver’s power play has been outscored by the Bruins’ penalty killers, including Marchand, who had two short-handed goals during Game 3.
The Canucks feel their inability to convert on the power play has emboldened the Bruins to continue throwing their bodies around on the forecheck, and engaging them after the whistles.
“If we re not making them pay for some of their dumb penalties — and they’ve taken a lot of them this series — maybe they are going to continue to do them,” Bieksa said. “That’s the job of our power play, to keep those teams honest and make them pay when they become undisciplined.”
Marchand’s job is to keep pushing without taking those penalties. He had one in Game 1, but stayed out of the box the next two before his late indiscretions in Game 4, all of which impresses veteran Bruins’ heavy Shawn Thornton, who was inserted in Game 3 to add more physical play.
“He had 20-something goals and he plays a bit of a role as an agitator and he has energy and he comes to play every single night,” said Thornton, who has counseled Marchand on staying on the right side of the penalty line. “When I was his age I don’t think you could rein me in, so I know what it’s like to play on that edge. It took me a lot of years to find where that line is and sometimes I step over it still, but he’s done a real good job of finding it so far.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)