Sports

‘It’s an art’: Bruins’ Brad Marchand infuriating Maple Leafs as series villain

TORONTO — When Brad Marchand woke up in his Ritz-Carlton hotel bed ahead of a pivotal Game 3 in Toronto, he was overcome with excitement.

Excitement and gratitude.

A very specific kind of gratitude that comes when you’re 35 years old and 15 seasons deep in a young man’s league, when you’re a dad and you only have one more year on your deal, when your legs aren’t what they used to be and you’ve watched all your fellow Stanley Cup–winning teammates retire.

And now you’re facing an opponent, the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, who are objectively more dynamic, more stocked with high-end skill.

“It’s not a given that you get the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” Marchand said, following his star turn in a 4-2 Boston Bruins win on Wednesday.

“Understanding that it’s a gift to play in this league, and playoffs is something that we dream about as kids. And I talk to my kids about it and their dreams of playing at this level. And to realize that we’re living it, I just kinda woke up with that gratitude that we’re lucky to be here — and you want to want to make the most of this opportunity.”

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Perhaps a different team, a different leader sprung from a different athletic culture, might arrive at Scotiabank Arena concerned about a squandered home-ice advantage or worried that, jeez, do we have any answer for Auston Matthews in beast mode?

Marchand’s tone at the Bruins’ morning skate, however, turned apprehension into anticipation. Coach Jim Montgomery picked up on the little man’s big vibes early.

“I saw the way our captain was. I just knew we were going to have a good game. I didn’t know we’re gonna win — because the Leafs are good hockey team — but I knew we were coming to play,” Montgomery explained.

“He started barking the first drill before I got out. It’s three minutes early. He goes, ‘Let’s go!’ I loved it.”

The Maple Leafs hated it.

They despise that Marchand is averaging two points per game in this series, that his fingerprints are all over both sides of the special-teams battle they’re losing, and that this ninja of hockey’s dark arts has drawn two key penalties while taking none of his own.

That the series’ true Invisible Man is provoking and punishing without getting penalized. A jewel thief in plain view.

Too loud not to turn heads.

Yet too slippery to apprehend.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 1: Maple Leafs vs. Bruins

Keep up with the latest as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins renew their Original Six rivalry in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“You gotta recognize he’s a world-class player, both in ability and how he plays, in the gamesmanship and everything,” opposing coach Sheldon Keefe said.

“He gets calls. It’s unbelievable, actually, how it goes. But we gotta play through that, gotta play through that stuff. I don’t think there’s another player in this series that gets away with taking out [Tyler] Bertuzzi’s legs the way that he does. There’s not one other player in the series that gets away with that. But he does.

“It’s an art, and he’s elite at it.”

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Montgomery counters, because in playoffs everyone hears the ref’s whistle filtered through their own logo: “Everybody in the playoffs targets the other team’s best players. And he gets targeted, and he still manages to get under people’s skin, and yet he doesn’t cross the line. It’s something that you just got to tip your hat to him, because of his maturation as a hockey player and as a person.”

The Maple Leafs recognize the threat. Now they must find a better way to deal with it.

“He obviously wants to get under our skin and influence the refs,” Matthew Knies said. “We’ve just got to be composed and not get into that bull—- and just play hard and make him least effective.”

Marchand was at his most effective plying his craft inside a nasty, tight, exhilarating 133-hit affair Wednesday.

He tangled himself up with off-ice pal Bertuzzi while Trent Frederic snapped Boston’s first goal off a rush. He had the primary assist on Jake DeBrusk’s power-play strike. He logged 4:14 on a heavily taxed yet perfect penalty kill.

Then, with the score knotted 2-2, he snapped the game winner, high and clean, with about eight minutes to go and pumped in an empty-netter for good measure.

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DeBrusk has been drinking in Marchand’s inciting cocktail of magic and menace since he joined the room. He says the captain is at his best when he’s drawing clusters of chaos early and often and after.

“When he gets in his Little Ball of Hate mode, that’s usually when good things happen for the team,” smiles DeBrusk. He echoes Keefe’s message of Marchand thriving in the grey.

“Well, I think he’s learned the hard way,” DeBrusk goes on. “It’s a dicey game. It’s one of those ones where it can go bad, and it can go good. And I think he just tries to play to his strengths. And sometimes the strengths are getting in the face of the opponents and being annoying and being somebody that you wouldn’t want to play against.”

Would you want to play against a sneaky, two-way forward who has amassed 16 points over his past 10 playoff games, while only taking two penalty minutes?

Who has 134 points in 149 playoff games and just broke Bruins president Cam Neely’s franchise record for playoff game-winning goals, with his 12th?

“Emotionally, he’s our leader. He drives the fight every night. And it’s on us to follow right behind,” explains Charlie McAvoy, inspired by Marchand’s pep talk.

“What he said about gratitude this morning, and realizing where you are, and these series, they go fast. These opportunities, you got to work for them. You’ll blink, and it’ll be over. I love that. And I thought we had emotion this morning, and we carried it through the night.

“Regardless of the ups and downs of the game, he kept … the energy high, and we were able to bounce back from everything that we faced tonight.”

Adds a locked-in Jeremy Swayman: “That’s our leader, and he’s a captain through and through. He doesn’t take no for an answer. Leads by example. He’s just a pinnacle what a captain should be, and we’re so lucky to have him in this room.”

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Marchand, whose history of fines and suspensions requires an accountant, freely admits that it has taken him years of mistakes and line-crossing and face-licking to “just play,” but he’ll argue that he hasn’t done anything too egregious through the first 180 minutes of this series.

“At this time of the year, it gets a little emotional, and I’m an emotional player,” Marchand says. “You need to be able to keep that intact. I thought we’ve done a really good job of that so far as a team. We’re playing hard between the whistles and not emotionally going over that line.”

Left unsaid: Marchand has been an expert at luring the Maple Leafs over that line, then making them pay for it.

“I just think there’s a burning intensity to win,” Montgomery says. “And he doesn’t care about what just happened. Good or bad, it’s gone. He’s on to what’s next.”

Fox’s Fast Five

• Toronto is right there with Boston at even-strength, but the special-teams battle is so lopsided, it’s threatening to decide the series.

The Bruins’ power play went 2-for-3 in Game 3, while Toronto’s went 0-for-5.

All told, Boston’s power play is outscoring Toronto’s 5-1, despite having one less opportunity during the series.

• Maple Leafs–Bruins series, total hits…

Game 1: 100

Game 2: 97

Game 3: 133

Every single skater registered at least one hit Wednesday.

Keefe believes the upcoming two-day break will help not only Willian Nylander’s chance to draw in, but also heal some bruises.

“Guys who gave us a lot here today and have given us a lot through this series can absolutely benefit from the day off and some of the things we’ve been going through,” he said. “But it’s gonna benefit Boston as well.”

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• Just a little ‘stitious?

Sammy’s slick salmon suit secures a second selection:

• The Maple Leafs — ironically, a team constructed for offence — have scored three goals or fewer in 10 consecutive playoff games. That’s an NHL record.

• Montgomery is not thrilled that an extra off-day is taking place in Toronto (between games 3 and 4). He would’ve preferred a Thursday-Saturday schedule.

“We’re spending more time in Toronto than Toronto is spending in Boston,” he noted. “We’re the home team.”




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