Brad Marchand definitely has the owning up to one’s mistakes part of maturity down pat.
“I dove,” the Bruins’ rookie winger admitted Friday night when asked after Boston’s series-clinching victory about his exchange of checks with Philadelphia’s Kris Versteeg that resulted in coincidental minors in the first period.
“He got me a little bit, but I dove. He didn’t get me that hard.”
Marchand was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty to go with the interference call on Versteeg. There was no loss of man-power and the exchange of blows had little impact on the Bruins earning a 5-1 win and a sweep of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The 2010-11 season has been all about the 22-year-old Marchand growing up, especially on the ice. We witnessed the fruits of that labor throughout the Bruins’ Game 4 win over the Flyers, and not just after Marchand’s battle with Versteeg.
We saw Marchand bounce back after his egregious giveaway at the Philadelphia blue line that led to a 2-on-0 break and the Flyers’ lone goal. And then we saw head coach Claude Julien trust Marchand enough to have him on the ice with less than two minutes remaining in a 3-1 game. Marchand buried an empty-net goal — his fifth goal of the postseason — with 1:56 left.
The giveaway that led to the Flyers tying the game at the 13:22 mark of the second period was the result of a play Marchand’s had a bad habit of attempting to execute for years.
“He would always want to cycle over the top of the circle and try to create a play, and it resulted in giveaways a lot, in the American [Hockey] League,” said general manager Peter Chiarelli Saturday when explaining Marchand’s improvement since he turned pro a couple seasons ago. “But he got better at it, he got stronger on the puck, he got a little faster, so we’ve seen a progression. Last year he was maybe a quarter-step behind on making those plays, on finishing stuff, and he’s just gotten stronger, he’s gotten a little faster, he’s gotten a little more mature.”
In the past, Marchand might’ve also hung his head or become tentative after making such a huge mistake. He responded the opposite way in Game 4, as he kept playing his game, stayed aggressive and created some scoring chances in addition to playing a big role in Boston’s three penalty kills.
“It was very tough. I was very frustrated,” said Marchand. “But I had to bounce back and not worry about it. There was another period of play. We needed to get the lead back and get the win. If I let that bother me, then it could’ve ruined the whole game for me. So I just wanted to let it go.”
Marchand let the mistake go and also turned the other cheek when challenged numerous times by Flyers players, who were desperate to get on the man-advantage in an attempt to salvage their season. Not only couldn’t Marchand afford to cross the discipline line because the Bruins couldn’t afford to be down a man, they also couldn’t afford to be without his services. After all, he made the ascension from fourth-line grinder to second-line 21-goal scorer in his first full NHL season and has played a vital role for Boston in all situations.
“When a player like him is being targeted by the other team it means he is doing something pretty good,” said head coach Claude Julien. “And I think [the key] for him right now is just to stay poised and make sure he doesn’t get sucked into those penalties, retaliation or get short-tempered with that kind of stuff. And he’s done a good job. It’s been a challenge for him, but he’s done a great job.
“And I think throughout the playoffs he has been one of our most consistent players. He kills penalties, once in a while plays a power play, but 5-on-5 he’s been a real good contributor, especially on that [Patrice] Bergeron line.
Marchand said he was prepared for the Flyers to flex their “Broad Street Bullies” muscle in an elimination game.
“They wanted to try their best to get us off our game – a lot of scrums and cheap shots behind the play. But we wanted to stay away from that for the most part,” he said. “They sucked a couple guys in there early on. But after that we wanted to kind of settle down and get back to the way we were playing before and kind of get away from that stuff.”
There was no telling if Marchand would ever get away from that stuff as he was honing his skills with the Providence farm club, let alone do it for Boston on the biggest postseason stage. Always an irascible sort, Marchand showed more of a knack for penalties at the worst times, even during his brief Boston stint last season, than for timely goals and smart agitating.
That all changed early this season he got on a line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton and helped make Boston’s energy line into an offensive threat. From there, he went on to score 21 regular-season goals and establish himself as the left winger on the line with Bergeron and Mark Recchi. The future Hall-of-Fame right winger has been impressed by Marchand’s blossoming.
“Marchand seemed to really get some confidence from [playing with Campbell and Thornton] and then he just kept evolving as the year went on and more and more confidence,” said Recchi. “You can just see it out there. He controls the puck. He controls the play. He plays with a lot of energy and you need guys like that.”
To beat Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, and maybe even win one more round to capture that ever-elusive Stanley Cup, the Bruins will need Marchand to contribute in a lot of ways.
None, though, involve giveaways, penalties or dives. They all involve him continuing to mature.