BOSTON (AP) — There’s a dust-up in the corner, the referee raises his arm to signal a penalty, and Brad Marchand is right in the middle of it.
Only this time, he’s trying to keep the peace.
The face-licking, stick-stomping Bruins forward moved quickly to pull rookie Connor Clifton away before he could retaliate for an illegal hit by Carolina’s Jordan Staal. Instead of matching minors, Boston wound up with a power play that led to the tying goal, and the Bruins went on to beat the Hurricanes 5-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
”He’s turning over a new leaf, eh?” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said with a smile after the Bruins moved three wins from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013.
A 5-foot-9 gadfly nicknamed ”The Little Ball of Hate,” Marchand is a two-time All-Star who helped Boston lift the Cup as a rookie in 2011 and scored 100 points this season for the first time. He leads all players with 15 points this postseason.
But his antics have angered other teams and sometimes overshadowed his skills.
During last year’s postseason, he developed a tendency to lick opponents’ faces; the NHL told him to knock it off. This year, even Cassidy has praised him for the maturity that has kept that behavior to a minimum; Marchand was caught stomping on Blue Jackets’ forward Cam Atkinson‘s stick before a faceoff.
Later in the series, he sucker-punched Columbus’ Scott Harrington from behind. More important for the Bruins, after going scoreless in the first three games of the East semifinals, Marchand had a goal and three assists over the next two to help them rally from a 2-1 deficit and win the series in six.
”Listen, he’s been in these big games,” Cassidy said. ”He’s a Stanley Cup champion. So he understands maybe a little more than meets the eye sometimes.”
Perhaps nobody understands better than Marchand what was going through Clifton’s mind when he saw Staal hit Wagner from behind in the conference finals opener on Thursday night. Clifton gave Staal a cross-check and grabbed him around the back of the head.
But, before things could go any further, Marchand was pulling him away.
”When someone gets hit like that, you stand up for him,” Marchand told WEEI.com.
As for playing peacemaker, Marchand said: ”You know, it’s not often I’m in that position. But, obviously, it was an important power play and we scored on it, so he did a great job of getting in there but staying disciplined.”
Marchand said he didn’t know how far Clifton was going to take it; he just wanted to make sure that he stopped.
”I would expect that. He’s a leader,” Clifton said. ”We had a power play and it was a bad hit, but he stopped me pretty fast.”
After keeping Clifton out of trouble, Marchand assisted on Marcus Johansson‘s goal during the Staal penalty that tied the score 2-2. He also set up Patrice Bergeron‘s power-play goal 28 seconds later that gave Boston the lead for good.
”Good for Brad,” Cassidy said. ”We’ve put an ‘A’ on his shirt at times this year for a reason, and I’m glad to see that he made that decision tonight with a younger guy.”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Friday that his team is aware of Marchand’s tendencies, but he didn’t spend any time figuring out ways to goad the Bruins forward into a dumb penalty.
”We know all the players in this league,” the coach said. ”Sometimes it’s better just to go and play the game and not be worried about what someone may or may not do.”
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