TAMPA — As evidenced by his in-game chirps and postgame tweets, Brad Marchand rarely holds his tongue. According to a vote of his peers, the Bruins’ sharp-witted sniper is the most formidable trash-talker in the NHL.
Yet Marchand, who scored twice in Monday’s showdown against the Lightning for a career-high 94 points, recently recalled a time when he didn’t make a peep.
The summer before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Marchand, then a 25-year-old hopeful, golfed at a Team Canada function with Martin St. Louis.
“I don’t think I said a word to him,” Marchand said of St. Louis, who won the Art Ross Trophy the season before that, one of two in his Hall of Fame career. “I was so star-struck by him. He was incredible.”
Listed at 5 feet 8 inches, St. Louis was the kind of little giant Marchand wanted to emulate.
“My favorite player growing up,” said Marchand, who is 5-9.
So Marchand was taken slightly aback recently when informed that the Lightning legend, in a chat with the Globe, stacked the praise 10 feet high.
St. Louis, now consulting for Columbus, talked up Marchand’s smarts and skill before a Bruins-Blue Jackets game at TD Garden. Of particular interest was Marchand’s ability to protect the puck. That trait helped make St. Louis great despite his stature, and has helped Marchand go from fourth-line agitator to one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players.
No left wing, not even Alex Ovechkin (240 points), has outscored Marchand (264) in the last three years.
“He’s becoming smarter and smarter every year,” St. Louis said. “Protecting the puck is an art. He’s got the skills to protect it in some weird situations. It’s so much fun to watch.”
St. Louis, who retired in 2015 with 1,033 points (28th all time among wingers), was a master of creating space for himself amid towering checkers. He used a long lance of a stick — as does Marchand — and a lower body so strong some called him “Quadzilla.” His mind was just as critical.
“There’s not much room out there now,” St. Louis said. “He knows when it’s time to play fast. He knows when it’s time to slow it down. He knows where everyone is on the ice. He knows his exits out of the corners. And all that’s processed well before he touches the puck.”
St. Louis calls it “playing in the future.” It is not easy to teach someone hockey’s sixth sense, how to know what is both behind you and in front of you. St. Louis said it came to him around 2002-03, when he hit 70 points for the first time at age 27. At that age, in 2015-16, Marchand hit 61 points. He has reached career highs each year since.
St. Louis thinks Marchand, who will turn 31 on May 11, is only getting better.
“He knows the game in front of him, and the game behind him,” St. Louis said. “It’s an art. You evolve to that. When you come in the league, you’re trying to make your mark, and you’re mostly thinking about working hard, working hard, working hard.
“The biggest part of the game, when you become a star player like he is, is how to slow it down in his head. He doesn’t have to skate hard all the time. He just has to think it hard.
“You’ve got to get over that hurdle. You have to prove you can play. You’re not getting all the best ice time. You have to figure it out a little bit. Eventually you get there. You craft it, you work on that craft.”
Praise from one craftsman to another.
Kucherov closes in
Nikita Kucherov, the first 120-point player since Sidney Crosby in 2006-07, scored in the third period Monday to put him 6 points shy of the highest-scoring season by a Russian (Alex Mogilny, 127 in 1992-93).
The list of players to hit 120 points in the last 25 years: Jaromir Jagr (four times), Mario Lemieux (twice), Joe Sakic, Joe Thornton, Crosby, and Kucherov.
Marchand is 6 shy of his first 100-point season. Since the 1994-95 lockout, only Thornton (101, 2002-03) has reached the mark for the Bruins.
“At this point, that stuff’s all secondary,” he said. “If you don’t win a Cup, it doesn’t matter how good a season you had. It all goes out the window, and you try to do it all again next year.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy was willing to take him at his word, but deep down, he might feel differently.
“It’s a special number,” he said. “It’s like 50 goals. It’s a measuring stick. You talk about players as a 50-goal guy, a 100-point guy . . . Maybe later on in life he’ll appreciate it more than this year.”
Johansson on deck
Cassidy said winger Marcus Johansson, who missed his 10th game in a row with a bruised lung, could play Wednesday against the Rangers at TD Garden. Same goes for defenseman Torey Krug (concussion) . . . Already missing Krug, Matt Grzelcyk (right arm) and Kevan Miller (upper body) on the back line, the Bruins lost John Moore late in the first period after a no-call hit from behind by Adam Erne. The Bruins ruled out Moore with an upper-body injury . . . Grzelcyk and Miller could return for next weekend’s home-road combo (Florida on Saturday, at Detroit on Sunday). Cassidy suspected those four injured Bruins would see four or five tune-up games before the playoffs. That’s save forward Sean Kuraly, whose broken right hand will keep him out until mid-April at least . . . Patrice Bergeron’s assists on both Marchand goals gave the center a career-high in points (75). Remarkable for two reasons: it came at age 33, and in 60 games . . . Charlie Coyle’s second-period goal was his second as a Bruin. David Backes’s assist on the goal gave him a three-game point streak for the first time this season . . . Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat (upper body) did not return after taking an open-ice hit from Connor Clifton in the first period . . . Cassidy, praising Tampa coach Jon Cooper as a Jack Adams candidate (coach of the year), said the humble Bruins coach wouldn’t turn down a finalist spot. “Throw him a bone, sure,” Cassidy said. “Trip to Vegas? My wife loved it last year.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.