WILMINGTON – It’s one thing for fans to hold a grudge against Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows for using Patrice Bergeron’s fingertip as an in-game appetizer.
There’s nothing wrong with those emotionally invested in the Bruins’ fortunes but not in the trenches battling against the Canucks to hate the way Kevin Bieksa talks and plays, or to question the toughness of the Sedin twins.
But for the Bruins’ players from the 2011 Stanley Cup championship team who are still around in 2013-14, there’s no reason for any lingering animosity toward a team they didn’t face in 2013 and now match up with just twice a year under the current NHL schedule system. The Bruins won the Cup, they pulled an upset against the highly acclaimed Canucks and still have the gaudy championship rings to prove it. Nothing the Canucks do or say can ever change the way 2011 finished.
That’s why it made no sense in Vancouver on Dec. 14, when in the midst of the Bruins’ 6-2 blowout loss to the Canucks, Brad Marchand busted a gasket and went all Marcel Marceau at the Vancouver bench. Marchand’s miming routine, which involved raising an invisible Cup and kissing an invisible ring, was one of the low points both for the Bruins and Marchand during a season-opening 54-game stretch that’s been mostly positive and has the team in first place in the Atlantic Division.
Marchand, who at the time was in one of the worst scoring slumps of his career, has turned his production around since that night. He enters the TD Garden rematch with the Canucks on Tuesday night with 17 goals on the season and seven goals in his past nine games.
More importantly, the words that general manager Peter Chiarelli and others directed to Marchand about cleaning up his act have obviously sunk in.
“Well, it’s a learning experience,” Marchand said Monday after practice at Ristuccia Arena. “Everything you do is a learning experience and you want to try to take the positives out of it. I know not to do that again. It was disrespectful, but at the point in time my emotions were running high and things happen. So I try to stay away from it but I just want to try to be a little bit nicer.”
It might be difficult for the Marchand, whose mouth tends to gush with trash talk like a busted downtown water main, to keep up his Mr. Nice Guy routine against the Canucks. Somehow Vancouver has a way of irritating the ultimate irritator. In between the physicality and shenanigans that went on in the 2011 Cup finals and the miming incident in Vancouver in December, there was the finals rematch at the Garden in January 2012, which featured Marchand sending Canucks defenseman Sami Salo to his rear end with a hip check that the NHL deemed illegal. Marchand was ejected from that game and then received a five-game suspension.
Turning the other cheek might be Marchand’s best move against Vancouver on Tuesday, especially since he recognizes that the Canucks are trying to knock him off his game. And his reputation precedes him by so much that he’s more likely to land in trouble than other rabble-rousers if more non-hockey hijinks ensue.
“Obviously I get yelled at a lot for it,” he said about the trash talking and other extra-curricular activities that have made him an all-world pest for years. “But I mean it’s part of the game a lot of guys are doing out there. But I think I do a little bit more and I think that’s why I catch a little more heat for it. But they definitely [go after me]. You can see before I did that stuff in Vancouver, two guys were grabbing my face. So I mean it’s not just me out there. They’ve got some bad guys out there, too.”
We’ll find out who the good guys and bad guys are Tuesday. Marchand would be wise to stay on the right side of the law.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.