BOSTON (CBS) – The Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks looked destined to play another multi-overtime epic Sunday, the kind reminiscent of their six-game battle in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals.
Unfortunately, the most recent Original Six showdown was being played in the regular season. So after the Bruins killed off a 4-on-3 and Gregory Campbell fanned on a shot with an empty net on a 2-on-1 in the five-minute overtime, the teams decided the glorious contest with a shootout instead of more hard-fought hockey.
There are shootout losses that feel like victories (or old-fashioned NHL ties), and the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to the Blackhawks was definitely one. The Bruins matched one of the West’s best shot for shot and hit for hit, even while playing with defenseman Adam McQuaid for all but 12 shifts of the game. By coming within one successful shootout attempt shy of victory, the Bruins allayed some of the worries about their ability to compete with the elite of the NHL. Those doubts arrived when the Bruins were manhandled at Anaheim and Los Angeles, and squeaked by San Jose, 1-0, on a recent road trip.
Aside from the solid team effort and point the Bruins earned in the standings, the Bruins also had to be heartened that Brad Marchand continued his recent all-around strong play. Marchand had been showing signs of being his old self lately, but his recent visit to Chicago was the ultimate test of his quest for consistency. He passed with flying colors.
The Blackhawks held Marchand point-less in last year’s finals, and made him look so bad it was assumed he was injured. In the aftermath of the Bruins’ loss, Marchand never revealed any major ailments. In the first rematch of last season’s finalists, Marchand was the one doing the hurting.
He scored both of Boston’s goals using the speed and fearlessness that deserted him against the Blackhawks seven months ago. He also added a shootout goal, which really becomes a meaningless footnote in a game like this. But there was more to Marchand’s performance than his offensive production.
Without earning a spot in the penalty box or on the Bruins’ bench, Marchand managed to get under the Blackhawks’ collective skin. It paid off when he was slashed by Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook and earned the Bruins a power play.
Some try to claim it’s the other way around, but Marchand is at his best when hockey playing and point production are his primary focuses and the extracurricular stuff comes afterwards. That’s the way he struck the balance in Chicago, unlike during the season’ first 35 games when he scored just five goals. That 35th game was the contest in Vancouver, where the Bruins got routed and Marchand inexplicably taunted the Canucks’ bench about things that happened in 2011. It was an embarrassing incident for both Marchand the Bruins’ organization, and it was one general manager Peter Chiarelli saw fit to lecture Marchand about.
Since that night, Marchand has scored nine goals in 15 games. He could’ve had more based on the chances he just missed on against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars last week. In short, he’s been flying and been as pesky as a fly without giving his own team or the referees a reason to swat him down.
Now that Marchand’s clicking again, there’s one less concern for Chiarelli as head starts to really dig into the trade market in the five or six weeks before the deadline. The Bruins could probably use a little more firepower, and the next couple weeks of watching Loui Eriksson return to form and deciphering if Reilly Smith can score at his current pace will help Chiarelli decide whether he needs to delve into the Michael Cammalleri bidding or go for another big name or just tweak his forward corps.
The Bruins have held their own against the best teams in the better conference. To beat one of those teams in a best-of-seven in June, though, they’re going to need a few more weapons. One of those will be the Marchand that just lit up the Blackhawks and has been on a scoring role rather than the one that wilted in the Chicago heat with the Cup on the line.
At least the Bruins now know that Marchand still exists, and wasn’t just salary-drive creation or statistical anomaly.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.