Boston Bruins

It’s possible for a hockey team to have multiple Hart Trophy candidates. Despite the superlative three-zone play of Patrice Bergeron and the veteran’s much-deserved MVP talk, his stunningly dynamic linemate shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.

Brad Marchand is putting up elite, MVP-caliber offensive numbers for the Bruins this season – and when the B’s have needed him more, he’s only elevated his game.

Marchand is now up to 66 points in 51 games for the B’s this season after a five-point night against the Red Wings, including the game-winning goal in the team’s 6-5 win on Tuesday. That’s a 106-point pace over a full season. He’s missed 13 games, so he won’t catch the league leaders in scoring. But he’s fourth in the NHL with 1.29 points per game – a better rate than Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, and Claude Giroux.

He’s missed too much time to warrant real MVP consideration. But when Marchand is on the ice, he’s certainly played like one. Without Bergeron, Marchand’s scoring has elevated to 1.56 points per game – 7 goals, 7 assists in 9 contests.

Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins congratulates Patrice Bergeron after he scored a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden on Jan. 6, 2018. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins congratulates Patrice Bergeron after he scored a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden on Jan. 6, 2018. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It’s amazing to consider what Marchand’s career trajectory looked like in the 2010-11 season, when the diminutive-but-scrappy winger earned a role on the Stanley Cup-winning Bruins as a lead agitator. He continues to display pest-like behavior at times, and sometimes he takes it too far – but the offensive skills that he occasionally flashed for his first several seasons have developed into riveting, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him highlight reels. He’s become a completely different kind of pest. A much more dangerous one.

Marchand does things that only the league’s very best can do. He’s electric, the kind of star who is a threat to put the puck in the back of the net every time it touches his stick. And he’s doing it in the clutch, too: Marchand became the Bruins all-time franchise leader in regular season overtime goals with his 11th sudden-death winner on Tuesday.

Very few players in the NHL would have both the hands and the patience to pull off Marchand’s game-winner on Tuesday. It certainly helps that the Red Wings looked more like the Red Sea as the defenders drifted away from the front of the net. But how many players would have fired a quick one-timer and (probably) slammed it directly into Jimmy Howard’s pads? Not Marchand. He waits for Howard to sprawl, then roofs a casual backhand into the twine. Game over.

Marchand’s first of the three goals was another beauty. He got the play started by circling away from a defender and making a slick cross-ice pass to David Pastrnak. Then he patiently waited for Torey Krug to make an even better pass, and finished from a near-impossible angle on what NESN’s Jack Edwards described as a “goal-scorer’s goal.”

It’s the kind of highlight you see from the likes of Stamkos or Alex Ovechkin. Only the league’s truly premier snipers can pull off a shot like this:

Yes, it’s the lowly Red Wings. But five points is five points. And the eye test? Aces.

When asked if he thought he’d emerge as the elite player he’s become when he was down in Providence, Marchand credited having great teammates along the way. And justifiably humble-bragged about the fact that he can dominate in any situation – namely 5-on-5.

“I think that it’s what I wanted to push for, but a lot of it is really based on opportunity,” Marchand told reporters after the game. “You look at a lot of the guys around the league, a lot of the top scorers and if they’re not playing power play in the big situations then it’s tough to produce the same way. So I feel very fortunate that I’ve been put in this position, I’ve been playing with phenomenal players for a very long time now and they’re giving me a lot of opportunities.

“So I think a lot of guys when they’re in that situation, they’re able to have good years and good careers so I think I just benefit from that.”

Keeping His Cool

Brad Marchand takes a shot for the Boston Bruins against Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Brad Marchand takes a shot for the Boston Bruins against Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Not only did Marchand put on yet another offensive showcase, he showed good discipline too. With the Red Wings chipping him constantly, especially with forwards Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg, Marchand escaped with only a slashing minor to start the third period. The Wings were clearly trying to bait him into one of his typical line-crossing moves, but Marchand didn’t feel as strongly about it as you might believe.

“I honestly didn’t think it was that bad,” said Marchand, via Matt Kalman of CBS Boston. “A couple of shots, but I gave a couple of shots too. That’s part of the way the guys play. But I didn’t think tonight was a game where I was really targeted. I’ve been playing games where it’s been a little bit more.”

Head coach Bruce Cassidy was satisfied with how Marchand handled himself.

“I thought they were trying to get to him,” said Cassidy. “I thought he did a good job with that. I didn’t see the call he got for a slash. I don’t – you know those ones at center ice when they pick one guy; they’re kind of annoying to a coach because, clearly, their guy – you know, 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.”

To Be The Man…

Brad Marchand during a game against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 15, 2011. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Brad Marchand during a game against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 15, 2011. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Bruins already have to play the better part of the next two weeks (perhaps longer) without Bergeron, and at least four weeks without Charlie McAvoy. It’s clear that the defense will at times be a fire drill. They need Marchand to score and stay out of serious trouble more than ever, and it appears that No. 63 is mindful of that reality. He escaped a chippy, sloppy game with only two inconsequential penalty minutes and a superior offensive performance. Detroit couldn’t stop him defensively, and couldn’t get him out of his mental zone, either.

Perhaps Marchand has finally found the balance he needs to continue to be the amazing player he’s become. He doesn’t need to muck it up like he did in the past anymore. Teams need to prepare for him, to be careful with him. He clearly knows this much when he has the puck on his stick. And on Tuesday, he had the game on his stick and delivered – yet again.

The question is whether Marchand can carry this remarkable run into the playoffs, where he scored a solid but unspectacular 4 points in 6 games against the Ottawa Senators last April. If he can continue to net goals as the rate he is, and do it in clutch situations when the games really count, then the Bruins would be as much of a contender as anyone to hoist the Stanley Cup in June.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.