This isn’t the first time it’s been said, but hopefully, it will be the last. Brad Marchand is returning to the Bruins lineup Wednesday night after serving a five-game suspension for illegally elbowing New Jersey Devils’ forward Marcus Johansson, concussing him in the process. One of the best players on the entire planet, Marchand simply cannot be crossing the line when he is such an integral part of one of the NHL’s front-runners for the Stanley Cup this season.
The soon-to-be 30-year-old is in his ninth season in the league and should know by now what he can and cannot do on the ice. Even if Marchand does something that could be seen as accidental, unintentional or barely even illegal, his reputation has forced the league to act swiftly and diligently to protect the rest of the league.
It’s for that reason that Marchand needs to not just know where the metaphorical line is, but he’ll have to make sure he stands a few feet away from the line at all times to avoid any further discipline.
While his team may have won four of their five games without Marchand in the lineup (While also dealing with other notable absences such as Charlie McAvoy, Noel Acciari, Anders Bjork and Kevan Miller), it’s clear that the Bruins are a better team with him in the lineup. That tends to happen when you score 21 goals and 50 points in 38 games while playing on the best line in hockey. Marchand’s role on the power play and penalty kill (both ranked sixth in the league) also cannot be overstated as he is arguably the most important forward on the team not named Patrice Bergeron.
With Marchand back in the lineup, the Bruins have their aims set much higher than simply building on their 3-0-0 stretch. If the Bruins win their game against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, they would move just one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with one game in hand.
Bruins Poised for First Place
While catching the division leader is always something a team that isn’t in first place should strive for, this means more than just divisional or conference seeding. The Lightning are still the first-place team in the NHL and if the Bruins can win their remaining games in hand, they will officially sit atop the NHL’s standings. It would be a small feat in a season that has the potential for so much more, but it would be an impressive turnaround after the Bruins bizarre start to the season that featured rookies, injuries, goaltending controversies and everything in between.
The rookies on the team have found a way to make an impact bigger than anyone could have expected or hoped for when the season began. The goaltending woes ultimately solved themselves as Tuukka Rask is now hottest goaltender in the entire NHL and Anton Khudobin has become one of the best backup goaltenders in the league. Injuries have still been an issue for the Bruins, but with their confidence and chemistry at an all-time high, the team is rolling regardless of who suits up on any given nights. With the return of Marchand, the Bruins have what it takes to not only take over the top spot in the league but also make a deep playoff run for the first time since 2013.
Marchand Will Be Motivated
As if Marchand needed anything to fuel his play when he returns to the lineup, he’ll have all the motivation he needs thanks to Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Bergeron currently sits atop the team in goals scored with 22 on the year while Pastrnak is tied with Marchand at 21 goals and 50 points.
Always striving for greatness, Marchand will have some internal competition with his linemates to finish the season with the most goals and points once again this year. It may not be something that the players consciously think about when they take to the ice, but it certainly seems like the type of thing Marchand would chirp his linemates about in the name of fun.
Ultimately, though, the team is looking to win games and win a Stanley Cup. The point battles may be fun banter from time to time, but Marchand’s motivation should ultimately lie in a chance to win hockey’s ultimate prize for the first time since his rookie season. Only one team can win the Stanley Cup, but with the Bruins finding the recipe for success under head coach Bruce Cassidy, there’s no reason why that one team can’t be them this year.
That starts with the Bruins game against the Rangers as New York has won seven straight games the Bruins. It won’t be easy, but the Rangers have lost six of their last seven and are trending in the opposite direction of the Bruins. Wednesday’s game could also serve as an opportunity for the Bruins to get an up-close look at Rangers’ defender and captain Ryan McDonagh as well as forward Michael Grabner ahead of the trade deadline. Whether they’ll make a play at either player isn’t yet known, but it’s still an opportunity to get some scouting in before they decide.