Today's piece on Brad Marchand is the third in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring's Stanley Cup playoff run.
There's no argument about Brad Marchand being at the height of his playing abilities, and in the very prime of a brilliant career with the Boston Bruins.
Marchand garnered Hart Trophy votes this past season, which might have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago, given his track record for suspensions and brushes with the NHL powers that be in the NHL Player Safety Department.
The 31-year-old Marchand played 79 games while hitting the magical 100-point mark for the first time in his career, and he once again teamed with running mate Patrice Bergeron to be one of the most dynamic duos in the league. More importantly, he avoided getting suspended for the first time in his NHL career and really seemed to find the hockey equilibrium between spiritual leader and smart player staying above the fray with careless penalties or games missed due to discipline.
"He has recognized that he has to walk that line, and it's a fine line that sometimes you're going to cross when your wires get crossed upstairs," said Bruins president Cam Neely in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston. "He did a great job controlling his emotions this year for the most part. That's tough to do when it's an emotional game and he's an emotional player, but there's a correlation between the season he had and the games that he played."
Unfortunately, though, such a great season ended on a bummer of a down note for Marchand. It was No. 63 that found himself at the heart of a crushing mistake in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final that really hurt his team in a must-win game. With less than 10 seconds to go in the first period, Marchand retreated to the bench as the Blues were rushing up the ice, and his absence led to an odd-man rush that made it a 2-0 lead for St. Louis headed into the first intermission.
The Bruins had 40 minutes left to play in the game, but they were essentially crushed when one of their best players made such a critical mistake at a key juncture in the game.
It's something that Marchand took full accountability for in the days following Game 7, though he stopped short of saying it would be a motivating factor for next season.
"It's something you think about. Part of why we're such a good great is because we expect to be very good in the big moments and we all expect to come through," said Marchand. "Personally, I definitely have that thought where I'd like to have been a guy that was a difference-maker. I would like to have been better [in Game 7]. That's how it plays out sometimes.
"There are a few things [I would have done differently]. A little bit better awareness to know there was only seven seconds left and more aware of the guys coming down the ice. I thought the one guy was by himself. I thought the play was dead, but it obviously wasn't. It was a bad read. I obviously need to read the situation a little differently. That was the difference. One play can affect an outcome of a game and unfortunately it was a loss."
Bruins President Cam Neely looked more at the missed scoring opportunities in the first 30 minutes of the game as the area where his hockey club fell short in the winner-take-all Game 7 against the Blues at TD Garden. But there was also little doubt that Marchand's gaffe on the NHL's biggest stage will make him an even better player moving forward.
"Knowing Brad, that will bother him, but he's got to shake it off like we all do," said Neely. "The rear-view mirror is broken. You can learn from the past, but I don't want our players dwelling on the past."
A motivated Marchand hellbent on revenge? That's something most Bruins fans wouldn't mind seeing if it means he torches and torments all opponents in his path next year.
Key stat: 23 – Despite slackening just a little bit during the Stanley Cup Final, Marchand finished tied for the NHL lead in postseason scoring with his 23 points in 24 games played. The B's clearly wouldn't have even been in Game 7 of the Cup Final if it weren't for Marchand being the most consistently effective member of the Perfection Line during the postseason.
Marchand in his own words: "The more time you have to think about, it just gets harder. You start to pick apart everything that you'd like to change. You starting thinking the ‘What ifs.' It just makes it tough. [Losing Game 7] is going to hurt forever."
The biggest question he faces: The biggest question mark facing Marchand is whether he can replicate what he did in 2018-19, or whether the 100-point season was a career year for the Nose Face Killah. Marchand did so many things right for the Bruins at the very pinnacle of his NHL career, and the challenge will be to see if he can surpass, or even match, the magic of last season.
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