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The dangerous line Brad Marchand sometimes skates with the NHL

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On Tuesday night Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand made some headlines again when he tripped Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman in the neutral zone with his skate. He did not receive any additional punishment from the league for the play.

As an isolated incident involving two nameless, faceless players it probably wouldn’t have been a play that received anywhere near as much attention as it did. It would be easy, and perhaps somewhat reasonable, to conclude that it was simply a hockey play that involved a player turning to move in the direction of the puck, and at the very least, being guilty of a tripping penalty.

But the play did not involve nameless, faceless players.

It involved Brad Marchand.

On one hand, he is a tremendous player that over the past two years has blossomed into one of the game’s best forwards after getting an increased role in the team’s offense. He is a player that the 29 other general managers outside of Boston would absolutely love to have on their team.

If one of them said they would not want him on their team, you can just assume they are lying. Or are really, really bad at their job.

But he is also player that skates a very dangerous line with the league.

He is a player that had just been fined $10,000 in his previous game before the Stralman incident for a dangerous trip on Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Kronwall. He is a player that has an extensive history of plays in his career that involve him taking out his opponent’s legs.

He was already warned once this season for slew-footing (a play that is very different than a trip), an act that has earned him a suspension (two games in 2014-15) and a fine ($2,500 in 2011-12) previously in his career.

He has been suspended twice for clipping (three games in 2015-16 and five games in 2011-12).

In total, those five incidents, all plays that targeted the legs of an opponent, have cost him 10 games and more than $377,000 in lost salary (between fines and forfeited salary during suspensions) since the start of the 2011-12 season.

That is a lot, and still, the message does not seem to be getting through.

If the NHL’s department of player safety has shown us anything in its existence, it is that players with a history tend to get hammered when the message does not get through. When Matt Cooke kept getting called in for hearings and getting suspended for hits to the head, he eventually ended up crossing the line so many times that he finally got hit with a 17-game ban during the 2010-11 season (10 regular season games and the entire first round of the playoffs, which turned out to be a seven-game series).

When Raffi Torres couldn’t control himself from hitting his opponents in the head, he ended up losing half of a season.

Now, Marchand’s history of incidents aren’t quite on the same scale as those two, but the point remains: He has an extensive track record of a certain type of play, and it would seem reasonable to assume that at least one of these latest incidents would have warranted more than just a fine.

But this is where the NHL is in a tough spot with Marchand.

A player’s history does not become a factor until it is determined that a particular play is worthy of a suspension, and if there is another thing we have learned about the DoPS at this point it is that there are certain plays they do not tend to suspend for. Those are typically the plays that Marchand is involved in.

During the playoffs last year I went back through every suspension and fine the DoPS has issued since the department was formed at the start of the 2011-12 season and compiled a list of what does — and does not — tend to result in a suspension. I updated it to include this season’s 10 suspensions and five fines.

This does not include fines for embellishment or incidents not handled by the DoPS.

Notice where slew-footing and tripping, highlighted in yellow, sit.

suspensionsfines

Marchand’s borderline acts tend to be those that do not typically result in suspensions, mainly because one of the biggest goals of the DoPS in its development was to focus on direct hits to the head, or plays that could involve the head (boarding, elbowing, etc.).

Of the eight slew-footing incidents that have risen to the level of player safety, only two, including one for Marchand, warranted a suspension (and they were just a few weeks apart during the 2013-14 season). Six resulted in fines.

Astonishingly, two of the three clipping suspensions the league has handed out belong to Marchand.

The NHL, under the DoPS, has never suspended a player for tripping, and that is a precedent they are probably not going to break in the middle of a season unless it is an extremely egregious incident. Had the NHL suspended him for one of these past two plays (specifically the Kronwall one) he probably would have had a reason to appeal based on that, and would have stood a good chance of winning it.

There are two things that maybe the NHL as a league needs to consider here during the offseason.

The first is that maybe it should take into account a player’s history as soon as it looks at an incident. It might not be entirely fair, it might create the mindset that a particular player is getting picked on or targeted, but if it’s a player that has an extensive track record of similar plays it is probably a player that needs to be targeted.

The other is that the league — including the 30 general managers — need to set a new standard for what should happen on plays that target player’s legs like the ones we’ve talked about here. At this point it doesn’t seem to be a primary concern, perhaps because a slew foot or a trip (like the one involving Marchand and Kronwall) has not really resulted in a serious injury, whether it be to their leg or something worse after falling to the ice.

If it eventually did, you could bet that it would start to get more attention. Take, for example, the aforementioned Matt Cooke. When he wrecked Marc Savard‘s career with that horrendous hit a few years ago he did not receive a suspension for a play that everybody in the league — including his own team — wanted to see him suspended for because the league had a long-standing precedent that it was a legal play. Dirty. But legal.

When there was enough of an uproar, specifically because of that hit by Cooke a couple of other similar hits that season, it finally led to the creation of rule 48 and the development of the DoPS.

In the end, this is the fine line that you get with Marchand.

He is a great player. A top-line, possession driving scorer whose on-ice performance appeals to be the analytical and eye-test senses.

But he also skates a fine — and in certain areas reckless — line that makes him a thorn in the side of the NHL as much as it does his opponents.

The Buzzer: Bolts send Devils packing, Caps jump ahead, Leafs extend series

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Three games on Saturday

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning win series 4-1)

The Devils were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, but their 2017-18 campaign officially came to an end on Saturday. They’ll be disappointed, but this season was a success for the group. As for the Bolts, they’ve punched their ticket to the second round after a terrific regular season. The Lightning received point-per-game production from Nikita Kucherov (1o points), Steven Stamkos (6 points) and Alex Killorn (5 points), but they also had 14 different players pick up a point during the series.

 Washington Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (Capitals lead series 3-2)

Four of the five games in the series have gone to overtime. Game 5 was a typical back and forth affair, as the Jackets scored first before the Capitals went up 2-1. Columbus tied the game, Washington went ahead, again, 3-2, but a dominant third period led to the Blue Jackets forcing overtime. Nicklas Backstrom tipped-home the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Capitals the first home win of the series. This has clearly been the best first-round series of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 3 (Bruins lead series 3-2)

The Maple Leafs jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads, but the Bruins managed to make things interesting in the third period. Boston had a number of power play opportunities, but they couldn’t cash in. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they’ll have to go back on the road to try to put the Leafs to bed. The Leafs managed to keep Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand off the scoresheet on Saturday. Replicating that two more times won’t be easy.

Three Stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Backstrom scored two goals, including the overtime winner against the Blue Jackets in Game 5. He also added an assist on T.J. Oshie‘s go-ahead goal late in the second frame. The win gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The 30-year-old has two goals and eight points in five games this postseason.

2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

The Capitals had a one-goal lead heading into the third frame, but they were badly outplayed in the third period. Holtby is the biggest reason why Washington was able to make it to overtime at all. The Blue Jackets outshot the Capitals 16-1 in the third frame. Holtby had a rough season, but his play in Game 5 was very encouraging.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs had to kill a number of penalties during their Game 5 win over the Bruins, and Andersen was one of the key reasons they were able to do so. The Leafs netminder faced at least 40 shots for the third time in five games (he’s 2-1 in those contests). If Toronto wants to force a seventh game, they’ll need him to turn in another fantastic performance on Monday night.

Factoid of the Night

Sunday’s Schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 3:00 p.m. ET

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to force a sixth game, thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals from Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They would increase it to a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck