It’s difficult not to grow melancholy when looking back at boxing matches on ice that so frequently used to break out. But for Bruins star left winger Brad Marchand, a pit bull in a French bulldog’s body, his job requires living in the moment, not pining for the past.
Standing at his locker after Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Marchand was asked about what he brings to the Bruins in the area of antagonizing opponents.
He sounded neither like an old man yearning for yesteryear nor a macho man craving tough-guy credit. He sounded like a modern man, a cerebral man well aware of the best path to the prize made of silver and nickel alloy.
“I tried pretty hard to get away from that this year, and I thought I did for the most part, so I’m not going to be looking to do that at all,” Marchand said on the eve of Game 1 of the playoffs against Toronto at the Garden. “Where we excel is just playing the game and allowing our skill and talent to take over.”
Bruins tradition evokes images of opposing players getting slammed into the boards and leaving games with bruised bodies. Reminded the spoked ‘B’ always has stood for grit and physicality, Marchand again sounded reasonable.
“It always has been, for sure. It always will be, potentially, but again, the league is going away from that,” said Marchand, who led the Bruins with a career-high 96 minutes in penalties. “You can’t be like a dinosaur in the game. Be too physical, you get suspended for everything you do, and it adds to penalties. There’s a very fine line these days, and it seems like they’re trying to push everything away from physicality.”
Marchand, 30, was in his second year when the Bruins last won the Stanley Cup in 2011 after losing the first two games to the Canucks. Those Bruins knew how to bruise foes.
“That’s 2011,” Marchand said. “The game’s changed drastically since then. You look at the amount of guys that don’t hit anymore. I bet if you take the hits around the league, it’s a lot lower than it was because everyone’s worried about getting suspended and getting fined. It’s such a fine line. No one knows what’s going to get called now. So it’s better to not hit now than to get a suspension. That’s just the way it’s going, and it’s not worth it anymore.”
You can’t score 100 points missing too many games with suspensions. His 36 goals and 64 assists ranked him fifth in the NHL in points, 28 behind the league leader, the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov.
Marchand tried to stay away from instigating, but wasn’t afraid to make an opponent pay when the situation called for it. He didn’t make it out of opening night without drawing blood.
The Bruins didn’t care for the way Lars Eller celebrated in front of their bench after he scored the night’s final goal of a 7-0 blowout in Washington. A few minutes later, Eller skated off the ice, blood dripping down the side of his head, a fight that started with Marchand punching up and finished with him punching down from on top of Eller. Marchand licked his combatant, although just figuratively this time.
Hard hits and fisticuffs always will have a place in hockey, albeit a diminished place. Marchand referenced an infamous late hit that echos to this day, a 2011 cheap shot that backfired on the Canucks when Aaron Rome sent Bruins star Nathan Horton out of the series on a stretcher in Game 3.
“When Horty got hit, it probably changed the momentum of the whole series,” Marchand said.
Regardless of the extent of fighting, the Stanley Cup playoffs amount to a marathon that sends all but one team home emotionally bruised.
“If we don’t win this year, it really doesn’t mean anything,” Marchand said of his 100-point achievement. “It’s just another season down the drain.”