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Brad Marchand's playoff production problem: Bruins want less pest, more scoring

DETROIT — Second period. Game 3. The Boston BruinsBrad Marchand tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone when the Detroit Red WingsBrendan Smith stepped up to hit him. Marchand made a move. Smith stuck out a leg. Marchand took a blow to his left knee. He tumbled, rolled, grimaced and grabbed …

His right knee?

Marchand stayed on all fours. He waited for the trainer to come out and help him off the ice, putting no weight on …

His right leg?

Marchand went down the tunnel as Smith went to the penalty box for tripping. Marchand returned less than four minutes later. Detroit fans rewound their DVRs, froze frames and double-checked Gray’s Anatomy (the knee bone’s connected to the … other knee bone?). Smith laughed about it with reporters the next day: “That’s Marchand.”

Yep. That’s Marchand, the notorious pest. But here’s the interesting part: He wasn’t faking. He legitimately hyperextended his right knee as he flipped through the air and crashed. No one believed him.

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Marchand isn’t the Little Ball of Hate. That will always be Pat Verbeek. No, Marchand is the Boy Who Cried Wolf. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt because of all the assorted stuff he pulls, and he better be careful. His antics might bite him.

“March pushes it, and it makes him a better player,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “But he does push it.”

The Bruins hold a 3-1 lead in their first-round series against the Red Wings entering Saturday’s Game 5 in Boston. They have an excellent shot to come out of the East for the second straight year and win the Stanley Cup for the second time in four years. Marchand can help them if he finds the right balance between producing and agitating, but he can hurt them if he doesn’t. Right now he isn’t scoring, and he’s teetering on the edge.

Marchand showed what he could do in 2010-11, when he scored 21 goals in his first full NHL season and added 11 more on the Bruins’ Cup run, all while being a 5-foot-9, 183-pound pain in the ass.

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In Game 6 of the Cup final against the Vancouver Canucks, he scored the opening goal of a 5-2 win, showcasing his high-caliber shot by beating Roberto Luongo high glove. He also smacked Daniel Sedin in the face with a gloved fist one, two, three, four times right in front of a referee during a scrum. Why? “I felt like it,” he said then. He got two for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct. Sedin, who literally turned the other cheek, got a 10-minute misconduct, too.

In Game 7, Marchand scored twice in a 4-0 rout.

Marchand scored 28 goals in 2011-12. He scored 18 in the lockout-shortened, 48-game 2012-13 season – a 30-goal pace over a full, 82-game schedule. He scored 25 this season. He also pantomimed ring-kissing and Cup-raising when he visited Vancouver, among other things – many, many other things.

Here’s the problem, though: Since scoring those 11 goals in 25 playoff games in 2010-11, Marchand has scored five goals in 33 playoff games. He had only four goals in 22 games last year when the Bruins went to the final and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, and he has none in four in this series. He has gone 12 playoff games without a goal, 10 without a point. Meanwhile, he remains high-maintenance and high-risk at the highest-intensity, highest-stakes time of year. His coaches and teammates are constantly on him.

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“We work with every player, and we talk with March,” Chiarelli said. “In the playoffs especially, there are make-or-break moments, and you don’t want them to be a penalty caused by over-aggression. But at the same time March being aggressive is his game.”

“We don’t want him crossing the line,” coach Claude Julien told reporters this week. “He’s got to play his game. He’s got to be respectful of the rules, respectful of what we expect from him as well. The only time he’s ever gotten in trouble with us is when he crosses the line.”

Marchand missed two open nets in Game 4. The first time, he was on a tough angle and shot wide of the far post. Stuff happens. The second, he had lots of time, he was right in front and the goalie was so far out of position the overhead replay showed only ice. But because – in his words – he “kind of flicked” the puck on the first miss, he tried too hard to bury this one. He fired it wide of the left post. He joked he gave Jarome Iginla a “huge kiss” for scoring in overtime and letting him off the hook. Had the Bruins lost, he would have been the goat.

He also went down like he was hurt at one point, then got up and skated hard when he realized the play was going on without him. He also cross-checked Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg for no apparent reason after a whistle in the second period, knowing full well Zetterberg was playing his first game since having back surgery in February, and kept harassing him around the ice. He also slashed the stick out of the hands of David Legwand when Legwand had the puck late in regulation.

“He’s good at what he does,” said Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “He knows the limits. He knows how to push it, too.”

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There is truth to that. Marchand has taken two penalties in four games, and only once has he put Detroit on the power play. In Game 2, he was one of four players to go off for roughing at the same time. In Game 3, he went off for holding a stick.

“I think in the playoffs they let a little more go,” Marchand said. “I think I’m at my best when I’m playing hard and gritty. ... Guys get frustrated when you do that. When you’re on top of them and you’re playing hard, it’s frustrating.”

The thing is, they don’t let everything go. Frankly it’s amazing the referees let him get away with as much as they do. It’s not like his reputation doesn’t precede him. It’s almost like he’s daring them to make calls. The Bruins worry they will oblige at a bad time.

And this isn’t his best, is it? Marchand isn’t going to keep missing open nets. He’s getting chances. He’s overdue to score in the playoffs. But the player he might be affecting the most is himself, and so he’s going to cut the extracurriculars.

At least that’s what he says.

“I think I’m going to stay out of scrums the rest of the series and just worry about playing,” Marchand said. “I might be focusing a little too much on other stuff, and that’s why I’m missing my opportunities. I think I want to help my team more on the scoresheet than other ways.”

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