BOSTON – There might not have been a coming-of-age walk through the desert that showed Brad Marchand the right way to play his role in the NHL, but there were plenty of skates to the penalty box for him to contemplate his future.

Now in his first full season with the Bruins after a couple years spent mostly trying to perfect his peskiness in the American Hockey League, it seems Marchand’s maturity is as much of an asset to his team as his speed, hands and – of course – ability to make players want to get at him like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner.

Marchand played a huge role in the Bruins’ 5-2 win over the New York Islanders tonight at TD Garden, with the shorthanded goal that put Boston up 2-1 late in the second period. The score tied him for the league lead in shorthanded tallies with three.

However, more telling about how far the 5-foot-9 Marchand has come from his days sparking bench-clearing brawls with the Providence farm club and putting Boston in shorthanded situations rather than drawing them in his first cup of coffee with the parent club came earlier in the second period.

As Marchand carried the puck into the Islanders end, defenseman Jack Hillen skated over from the Bruins winger’s side and upended Marchand with a low hit and some skate-on-skate contact that sent Marchand head over heels. The Bruins maintained possession of the puck, and Marchand got up, dusted himself and headed for the net.

In the past, a hit like Hillen’s might’ve been cause for a self-defeating bit of retaliation.

“I might’ve done something stupid after that before. … Most of the time, I might’ve given him a crosscheck or a slash back. But I’ve got to get away from that stuff,” said Marchand after the game.

Defenseman Adam McQuaid has been Marchand’s teammate in Boston and Providence for a few years. He has witnessed the change in Marchand.

“I think that is just his maturity and his experience,” said the blueliner. “I think he’s learned from past experiences. When you’re a first-year play, you have to make sure that if you draw a penalty that you’re not retaliating.”

According to stats compiled by the Web site Behind the Net, Marchand this season has drawn one penalty per 60 minutes and been called for one penalty per 60 minutes. However, when you factor in the couple borderline calls that went against him – some because of the reputation that preceded him from the AHL to the NHL, and part because of just a call being missed – Marchand is ahead of the game.

That’s what Boston hoped for him not just when he showed up for training camp this season, but when the Bruins drafted Marchand with a third-round pick back in ’06. They knew they were importing a hell-raiser with ability.

Sure, there are still times that head coach Claude Julien has to pull back Marchand’s reins. And the Nova Scotia native says that there are times the referees let him off with a warning. There were times in the past though that that might not have been enough to keep Marchand from letting his temper and pig-in-slop love for causing a ruckus win out over what was best for him and his team.

The Bruins showed faith in Marchand from the outset this season. Julien and his staff encouraged Marchand to muck it up and they used him on the penalty kill and in key defensive situations from Day One. He’s rewarded them not just with production, but maturity.

Yes, little Brad Marchand is all grown up now.