By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With less than six minutes remaining in the second period in the Bruins’ topsy-turvy 6-5 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday at TD Garden, Boston forward Brad Marchand and Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg exchanged several crosschecks, shoves, slashes and heated words.
“I asked him if he wanted to go, but …” Marchand explained after his goal in overtime capped his third career hat trick and earned the Bruins a fourth straight win despite playing without Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy because of injuries.
Seconds after that testy shift, Zetterberg left the ice for a line change but Marchand stayed on and decided to take out his frustrations on puck-carrying Gustav Nyquist in the neutral zone. Except Marchand missed the big hit and instead landed a less severe, but still painful blow on his linemate David Pastrnak.
“Yeah, I did hit him. That one hurt,” Marchand said.
Some players might decide to dial back their aggressiveness after nearly taking out a teammate but nothing is going to stop Marchand playing his all-out brand of high-skill, frantic hockey that’s made him an All-Star player.
“It kind of made me mad. Me and Pasta started going at it more,” Marchand joked.
It seemed that the Red Wings, not realizing what making Marchand mad actually does to him these days, wanted to knock Marchand off his game. At every turn there were two Red Wings in his face both in open ice and along the boards. Every time he had the puck, he was guaranteed to get hit, even sometimes a little late, like when Mike Green went over the top of a ducking Marchand along the wall and Justin Abdelkader made sure to make hard contact on a falling Marchand.
Except at 29, Marchand isn’t as easy a mark as he might’ve been in his younger days, although he still crosses the discipline line once or twice a season and earns his share of suspensions (six NHL suspensions so far). So on a night like Tuesday, with the Red Wings trying to play the spoiler and audition for jobs next season, you’re not surprised when Marchand scores three goals and assists on two others. You’re not shocked that for the fourth time this season and 11th time in his career in the regular season, Marchand scored the game-winning goal.
What impresses you is that aside from one minor slashing penalty taken after a center-ice faceoff – a penalty that could’ve gone either way, been a coincidental minor or just been ignored by the officials – Marchand was on the right side of the law and was able to menace the Red Wings for 19:38 of ice time.
Perhaps Marchand has found his inner happy place.
“I honestly didn’t think it was that bad,” Marchand said of the Red Wings’ attempts at intimidation. “A couple of shots, but I gave a couple of shots too. That’s part of the way the guys play. But I didn’t think tonight was a game where I was really targeted. I’ve been playing games where it’s been a little bit more. Guys just play hard and especially defensive players … they play pretty hard and play pretty strong on D, are physical guys. So that’s what plays into it.”
Marchand might’ve wanted to downplay the Red Wings’ strategy, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy noticed what the Red Wings were doing and was impressed by how Marchand handled it.
“I thought they were trying to get to him. I thought he did a good job with that. I didn’t see the call he got for a slash … but they’re sending their message in the third period,” Cassidy said. “Sometimes when games get out of hand, you see those calls, so we’ll take a look at it, but I thought he did a good job. He’s going to be targeted every night, so he has to get used to that.”
Pastrnak wasn’t only a victim of Marchand’s rambunctiousness; he also witnessed what the Red Wings were doing to his linemate. The right wing said it’s a compliment that the Red Wings believed they needed to push the envelope physically because that means Marchand’s among the elite of the NHL. Of course something else Pastrnak noticed may have made Marchand’s discipline more impressive.
“Usually Bergy’s out there to [calm him down],” Pastrnak explained.
That’s right, not only do the Bruins miss Bergeron’s 200-foot dominance, they miss his leadership. For one night without his Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder, Marchand was able to do the right things and let his awesome abilities make the Red Wings pay.
With Marchand, you never know what the future holds. Sure he’ll keep on scoring and surpass 30 goals for the third straight season, make great plays in his own end and be one of the best penalty killers in the league. But every time you think the time for extracurricular high jinks is over in his career, he comes up with an elbow to someone’s head or a low-bridge hit that dangerously flips an opponent head over heels.
The unpredictability of Marchand’s game may work in his favor. If opponents are trying to goad him, they’re not playing their game. When they’re tempting him to cross the line, they’re not trying their best to stop his slick moves or his accurate shot.
Marchand victimized the Red Wings for their tactics Tuesday and the Bruins will be able to go pretty far this season if he duplicates his performance in terms of goals and discipline moving forward.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.