Toronto’s Game 4 loss to Boston should be disturbing for the Maple Leafs and not just because it gave home-ice advantage back to the Bruins in a tied series. No, the scarier aspect of the setback was the fact Boston didn’t bully their way to victory; they outsmarted the Leafs and used their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeon and David Pastrnak to pick apart the Toronto defense.
Interestingly enough, Bruins coach began the game with a surprise; placing Danton Heinen on that top line and moving Pastrnak down in order to give him a little more space away from Toronto’s top checkers.
“Scorers, when they don’t score, can get antsy,” Cassidy said. “I’m not saying David was there, but we wanted to keep him from getting there.”
But the experiment proved to be short-lived and with Pastrnak back on the top line, the trio connected twice in the second period to help the Bruins win out. By the end, Bergeron and Marchand had been on the ice for four Boston goals and no Toronto scores in a 6-4 victory.
“Marchy got pucks deep and Pasta started to shoot it,” Cassidy said. “We talked about shot, rebound, recovery; see if we could break them down that way and it worked for us.”
And other than taking a shot on Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen after the whistle, Marchand was on his best behavior, letting his skills do the talking. For a guy with a history of line-stepping, Marchand was a different kind of dangerous in Game 4 and it showed on the scoreboard.
“I’m trying to me more of a player than anything,” he said. “I’m not really concerned about being a physical force. I play gritty, I play hard, but I try to be a good player for this group.”
And it’s working. In Game 2, the Bruins won by suckering the Leafs into a physical mudfight, culminating in Toronto center Nazem Kadri cross-checking Boston’s Jake DeBrusk in the face, earning Kadri a series-long suspension.
But the Leafs turned the other cheek in Game 3, using their speed to devastate the Bruins and come away with another win. It seemed like Toronto had the template: skate around the B’s, not through them; don’t get caught up in any shenanigans along the way.
This is why Boston’s Game 4 victory was so crucial, with Marchand as the poster boy. Clearly a guy who put up 100 points in the regular season can do some damage offensively, but Marchand also established a career-high in PIM this year with 96. Through four games against the Leafs, Marchand has yet to take a single penalty. And though the Toronto crowd roared every time he was dumped by a Leafs player in Game 4, Marchand stayed on task and the Bruins were better for it.
Which shouldn’t be too surprising, given Marchand’s trophy case: Stanley Cup, QMJHL title and gold medals at the World Championship, World Cup of Hockey (where he played on Canada’s top line with Bergeron and Sidney Crosby) and two world juniors. All that experience is paying off.
“The more you’ve been around, the more you understand what the playoffs are all about,” Marchand said. “No one expects to win four games in a row. We expect, especially with this group, to go a long way, but they have a great team over there. They’re going to compete hard and there will be ups and downs. It’s about feeling comfortable in those situations.”
Boston captain Zdeno Chara, perhaps leery of some sort of lurking Marchand-licking narrative, was concise when asked why the feisty left winger has been so effective for the team in the series:
“He competes, he works hard,” Chara said. “That’s it.”
And that’s key, because the Bruins don’t have the offensive depth of their first-round opponent. While the Leafs may actually be better off in the short-term without Kadri, losing Marchand to an ill-timed game misconduct or suspension (of which he has accrued more than his share during his tempestuous career) would be death for the Bruins, who count on him for grit, primary scoring and penalty-killing acumen.
The Leafs won’t like it, but the more they see Marchand on the ice, the less chance they have of upsetting the Bruins in this series.