By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
Even after he carried the Bruins this season with career highs in goals (39) and points (85), and Selke Trophy-worthy defensive play, Brad Marchand owes his teammates one.
Marchand’s undisciplined decision to spear Tampa Bay defenseman Jake Dotchin on April 4 earned the Boston speedster a two-game suspension. On the one hand Marchand’s absence didn’t cost the Bruins because they got the help they needed to finish in third place and will face Ottawa instead of Washington when the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs commences on Wednesday.
But the Bruins went 0-1-1 without Marchand and still had a chance to get home-ice advantage when he exited the lineup. They shouldn’t have had to hope for help in order to avoid being a wild card. After the Bruins’ first practice in preparation for the playoffs Monday at Warrior Ice Arena, Marchand wasn’t buying the notion that the matchups ever mattered, regardless of his lineup status.
“Worst-case scenario would’ve been missing the playoffs, which we didn’t do. It doesn’t matter who you play when you get in the playoffs, whether it’s Washington or Ottawa, they’re both great teams,” he said. “They’re a great team and we had just as much trouble with Ottawa as we did with Washington. So I think people just need to relax. Again we’re playing against Ottawa and that’s all that matters.”
Now what matters is that Marchand proves in the playoffs that he’s learned his lesson about crossing the discipline line, and that he’s able to produce at his regular-season level even with the Senators clogging the neutral zone and slowing the game down.
On the discipline front, as coach Bruce Cassidy said last week, “time will tell.” One has to hope Marchand will be smarter with so much at stake. For all their injuries on defense, the Bruins might be able to survive while shorthanded on the back end. A Bruins lineup without Marchand, however, becomes punch-less. Former coach Claude Julien seemed to have a handle on Marchand’s behavior at crucial times. Cassidy might still be searching for that handle. Hopefully they’ll be on the same page from Game 1 and beyond.
In the production department there shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s been a long time since Marchand announced his presence on the postseason stage with 11 goals and 19 points in 25 games during the Bruins’ run to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. He has five goals and 15 assists in 41 playoff games since then, including no goals in 12 games the last time Boston made the postseason in 2014. To be fair, Marchand had to have a hand injury repaired in the 2014 offseason but still it’s been a while since he thrived with the stakes at their highest in the NHL.
Since the halcyon days of 2011, Marchand has grown from surprisingly productive pest into a legit star player with an agitating streak. He had 37 goals last season, won the gold medal with Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship last spring and then teamed with Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron to power Canada to the title at the World Cup of Hockey in the fall.
Despite his status as the driving force of the Bruins’ offense and a focal point of the Ottawa defensive game plan, Marchand didn’t want to publicly put any undue pressure on himself to be a difference-maker.
“It’s different every year. Ottawa’s a very tough team and we’re all going to have to be great,” Marchand said. “I don’t think anything’s going to be different than in the past. You go out there and try to do your best and try to compete with that team. It’s going to be tough, like I said, they’ve been great all year.
“We’re all in the same exact position. We’re all zero-zero, no wins, no losses, and we’re fighting for our lives. So that’s what I’m going to try to do it is work my hardest and hopefully things go well.”
The Bruins will start paying Marchand $6.125 million per season next season. The past two regular seasons proved Marchand was worth the money, but the playoffs will be where what he does or doesn’t do will be most remembered. Just like he doesn’t want to be known as dirty player in spite of his multiple suspensions, Marchand doesn’t want to be remembered as someone who didn’t produce in the playoffs when he was counted on the most.
Marchand didn’t get to 40 goals in the regular season, so now he has a chance to get that 40th and more in the postseason and make sure the Bruins maximize their opportunity to take a winnable first-round series.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.