It is not easy to play hockey with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety conducting shift-by-shift surveillance.
Brad Marchand brought this upon himself. He did not have to launch a flying elbow at Marcus Johansson’s head. He paid for that decision with a five-game suspension and $373,475.60 in lost wages. Among his peers, the suspension further frayed a reputation that was already showing signs of wear.
But the Bruins’ 6-5 overtime win over Detroit at TD Garden Tuesday showed how Marchand can elevate his performance when he finds his sweet spot between coolness and combustion. It was one thing for Marchand to pump three pucks into the Detroit net, the last ending the night 34 seconds into overtime. It was another to see Marchand jerk the kettle off the flame before it boiled over.
Marchand scored his first two goals in the second period. Appropriately, the Red Wings turned up the heat on the No. 1 left wing.
Henrik Zetterberg jousted repeatedly with Marchand during an extended battle. Marchand went right back at Zetterberg. Later in the shift, Marchand charged full speed at Gustav Nyquist. Fortunately for both players, Marchand did not connect.
On his next shift, Marchand absorbed a smack from Danny DeKeyser. When tempers flared seconds later, Riley Nash and Justin Abdelkader, nabbed for roughing, were claimed as collateral damage.
To start the third period, Marchand lined up next to Nyquist. Five seconds later, Marchand was off to the penalty box. He was called for slashing, which is a polite description of how Marchand tucked his stick between Nyquist’s legs.
Marchand’s temper cooled to the degree where he kept his nose clean for the rest of regulation. He compartmentalized his frustration by punching in the OT winner.
“There he is,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “The puck finds him. He’s on it. Doesn’t quit. Made some real nice plays tonight.”
It was, in the big picture, a point that will not matter. The Bruins are 19 points clear of Florida, the fourth-place team in the Atlantic Division. In all likelihood, they will finish second or third in the division. Either way, Toronto probably will be the first-round opponent.
In that way, none of the 18 remaining regular-season games matter either. The Bruins would like nothing better than to fast-forward to the playoffs while accelerating the recoveries of Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy. The 18 games before the postseason give other teams plenty of cracks to get Marchand off his game and possibly out of the lineup.
The book is out on Marchand, just as it is on linemate David Pastrnak. Opponents will always try to rough up the top-line wings. There is no other way to play them but hard.
A physical approach could knock the puck off their sticks. It could also prompt them to lose their cool. It’s how every team targets Evgeni Malkin. They know Pittsburgh’s No. 2 center regularly hits back — sometimes at the cost of a retaliatory minor.
“I thought they were trying to get to him,” Cassidy said of how the Red Wings targeted Marchand. “I thought he did a good job with that.
“I didn’t see the call he got for a slash. You know those ones at center ice when they pick one guy, they’re kind of annoying to a coach. They’re jabbing each other, and it’s like, ‘Really?’
“It has no effect on the play. But they’re sending their message in the third period. Sometimes when games get out of hand, you see those calls. So we’ll take a look at it.
“But I thought he did a good job. He’s going to be targeted every night. So he has to get used to that.”
Pastrnak has a two-game suspension in his file for decking the Rangers’ Dan Girardi. But he has more leeway than Marchand. If Pastrnak pays someone back with a slash, cross-check, or punch, his punishment will not be an extended one. No such fortune is in Marchand’s future.
Marchand’s most recent five-game suspension signals that the league has had enough of his monkey business. If, during this final month of play, Marchand blows his top, the resulting punishment could bleed into the playoffs. The Maple Leafs would not complain.
The disciplinary ice he skates on is that thin. It would be a crushing smack in a stretch where points mean next to nothing.
Marchand makes life miserable for opponents. Nick Holden was on the wrong end of it before his arrival via Broadway.
“He’s a strong body,” Holden said. “Down in corners, he works so hard to get pucks back. For a guy that has the scoring ability that he does, it’s amazing to see him work so hard.
“It’s funny watching him from this side now, because when you played against him, you hated him for the way he plays. But when he’s on your team, you love it because of the way he plays.”
The best way of rendering Marchand ineffective is by taking him out of uniform. He was once a fourth-line agitator. Now teams will try to get under the first-liner’s skin in hopes of a rash response.
Marchand must turn the other cheek. The harm that could happen otherwise is simply too great.
It’s a hard way to play. But Marchand has left himself no other choice.