By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
One thing is for certain, if the Bruins fail to make the playoffs this season, it won’t be due to the play of Brad Marchand.
While most of New England were settling in for a late winter storm that most media outlets in the area would have you believing the apocalypse was at our doorsteps late on Monday night, the Little Ball of Hate brought a blizzard of his own during the third period against the Vancouver Canucks; scoring the tying and game-winning goals in the final 20 minutes of play.
Marchand would add an empty-netter for his hat-trick, tying him for the lead in goals scored in the NHL at 35, with some stiff named Sidney Crosby. His four-point night – he assisted on David Backes’ goal in the first that gave the B’s a 1-0 lead – also put him in a tie with Crosby for second place in points scored (74), trailing only Conner McDavid (75).
It may sound a bit like a broken record, but what number 63 in the black and gold sweater has done over the last two seasons is separating him from the good players in this league, and elevating him into elite status. Such an ascension requires one to consider him for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP this year.
With 13 games left to go in the regular season, the rarified air of a 40-goal season is a real possibility for the guy just 24 months ago, almost everyone throughout the league who didn’t call Boston home, looked upon as simply a pain in the ass rat. And that is not to say that they weren’t justified; Marchand’s antics – the multiple slew foots and the low-bridge hits – were grounds for even former head coach Claude Julien to call him out in the past.
However, as of late, Marchand has morphed into a true sniper, and those antics have lessened; to a degree, at least. In late January, the pesky winger was popped for a $10,000 fine for a cheap hit on the Detroit Red Wings Niklas Kronwall in a game at the Garden. The leg-check/slew foot, was a sign that while he may claim to be reformed, he has yet to be rehabilitated when it comes to playing over the edge.
Nonetheless, he has been exactly what the Bruins need if they are to break the consecutive seasons’ streak of being on the outside looking in at hockey’s second season this spring; something he seems hell-bent on single-handedly ending at two.
As they have for the last two seasons, the Bruins have their destiny in their own hands. With single games remaining with those closest to their rear – Toronto and Tampa Bay – and two games with the Ottawa Senators yet to be played, all the B’s have to do is keep winning, and they are in. While the Leafs and the Lightning have games in hand – two and one, respectively – it is unlikely both will overtake the Bruins in the standings, barring a repeat of the poor play down the stretch that they suffered the previous two seasons under Julien.
While interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has revived a team that was teetering on the edge of the NHL’s version of the toilet bowl over the past month, it has been the play of the superstar in the making – Marchand – that has dragged his team out of the ditch more times than not this season.
“He came to play,” said the man who calls himself “Butch” after the game. “He’s a leader of our hockey team. He knows the urgency of where we are in the season, game in and game out. He wants to extend the season, no doubt about it, and it shows every night. And he’s pulled some guys along. He’s really become a heart and soul player for this team, and that’s at both ends of the ice.”
Regarding the highlight reel, shimmy and shake move through two players in the slot and the sweet backhander past Canucks’ goalie Ryan Miller, line mate Patrice Bergeron had this to say, “It’s impressive. You’re not going to see those goals too often, so you have to take it all in when you see it.”
Marchand is not only on pace to become the first point per game scorer since Marc Savard in 2008/09, the “climb on my back, fellas” type of hockey he has played – especially in the second half of the season – is largely the reason Bruins’ fans should be optimistic about watching playoff hockey for the first time in three years in Boston.
They say that painters paint and plumbers plumb in the NHL. With his play over the last two seasons plus, the Little Ball of Great is proving to an elite master of all trades. And if you don’t like – or respect – the player he has become, then you simply don’t like hockey.