By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Following the 3-2 victory on Thursday night at TD Garden against the struggling Buffalo Sabres – a game the home team had no business winning – the buzz around the Bruins has been focused almost exclusively around their resident lightning rod, goaltender Tuukka Rask.
And it should be.
If it weren’t for the stellar performance by his netminder – one that featured a reverse blocker save after he lost his stick shorthanded in the third period against Buffalo’s Evan Rodrigues which will be shown for years to come – head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club would have been blown out of the barn on Causeway Street after the first 20 minutes of play.
But due to the domination of Rask between the pipes they weren’t. And while the Tim Thomas-esque sprawling stop will live on any highlight reel featuring the Fabulous Finn from this day forward, the season for the ages the guy that got his team back in the game is something that should be savored by Bruins fans.
In his 10th year in the NHL – much to the bane of the existence of the hockey fans who simply despise the diminutive whirling dervish from Halifax, Nova Scotia that love to hate him – Brad Marchand has established himself as the best left wing in hockey.
From a fourth-line pest that was – and still is, despite his sustained success – considered a rat in every city in the league not named Boston, Marchand has grown into a 200-foot complete player whose offensive game easily matches – if not exceeds – anyone else that has played the position over the last five years.
Joined at the hip with center Patrice Bergeron – who has earned the nickname “Mr. Perfect” among his teammates due to his unmatched attention to detail in every aspect of the game – the guy that wouldn’t think twice about deploying a slew-foot or low-bridging opponents on any given night in the past, has become a powerhouse that the other 30 teams in the league can’t stand playing against.
It was the Little Ball of Great’s forecheck and subsequent tip of a Zdeno Chara slapshot late in the first that snapped the Black and Gold out of the black hole that they were seemingly stuck in during the first 20 minutes of play against an obviously motivated Sabres squad, and his 15th strike of the season put the B’s ahead for good with a little over five minutes left in the second.
Since the 2016-17 season, Marchand has averaged over a point per game each year, and that average continues to grow as he has as a player. Beginning with that breakout campaign in which he found the back of the net 39 times and added 46 assists, the now 31-year old has been good for 1.06, 1.25, 1.27, and an otherworldly 1.68 point this season every time the Bruins take to the ice.
Currently third in the league in offensive production with 37 points in 22 games – he trails only Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl who share an identical 16G-28A-44P scoring line through 24 games – the vexatious vet is on pace for a prodigious 138 point season.
In other words, the player that the rest of the fans across the league still view as a pugnacious punk has become a bonafide superstar for the Bruins, despite the disdain his development is viewed by those who previously dismissed him as nothing more than a despicable cheap shot artist.
While Thursday night’s two points are undoubtedly due to Rask’s remarkable performance, it would be a shame not to recognize the ascension that the man once referred to as “Marchmont” by a caller to sports radio several years ago has achieved.
In fact, if he continues to play at the level he has over the last five years, Brad Marchand will likely see his family’s name honored in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto when his playing days are done.