“He hasn’t missed a beat tonight in his return,” Kenny Albert said of Brad Marchand while doing the play-by-play for NBC Sports Network’s Wednesday Night Rivalry.
“You can say he’s been the best forward so far,” said Mike Milbury, Albert’s partner in the booth.
Marchand took part in his first game back after missing the previous six with an upper-body injury in the Bruins’ 3-2 win over the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning. In the process, Marchand had not an ounce of rust on him, collecting two assists in the victory and logging 22:09 in ice time.
“I felt pretty good. Our line was clicking pretty well,” Marchand told reporters after his return to the lineup. “It makes it a lot easier when everyone’s playing like that. A lot of fun getting back into it.”
It didn’t take long for Marchand to make his presence known, albeit not necessarily in a good way. While the B’s were in the midst of their first power play in the first period, Marchand took a slashing penalty that negated the man-advantage after just 23 seconds. It may not have been the smartest of plays, but it did draw the attention of the Lighting.
As the opening period went on, Marchand began to settle in and start making the plays he was has been known to make. Just 12 minutes in, Marchand intercepted Victor Hedman’s pass in the neutral zone and slid it along to David Pastrnak. Pastrnak then fed Charlie McAvoy at the point, who blasted it by a screened Andrei Vasilevsky. The man providing the screen was none other than Brad Marchand himself. The goal was initially waved off as Marchand was called for goaltender interference. But after a Boston challenge, it was ruled that Marchand was actually on his way out of the crease when Vasilevsky made contact with him, and the call was reversed, giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead with Marchand receiving the secondary assist.
Late in the first, Marchand had his fingerprints on the Bruins’ second goal of the period. Marchand chipped the puck out of the defensive zone to a breaking Danton Heinen. Heinen would dish it Riley Nash, who then buried a beautiful wrist shot over Vasilevsky’s shoulder to put Boston ahead 2-0. Marchand was once again credited with an assist, giving him nine on the season.
Throughout the game, Marchand continued to torment the Lightning, including drawing an interference penalty on Mikhail Sergachev early in the second. In turn, Marchand would be called for embellishment, a call that, despite his reputation, did not sit well with the most of the fans at TD Garden.
Marchand also played a key factor in the Bruins hanging on down the stretch, clearing the puck out of the zone three times in the last minute. In one instance, Marchand looked to put the game away by firing it in the vacated net from his own zone. But the puck went just wide and play was halted for icing with just 2.5 seconds left.
Marchand admits that he let his eyes get bigger than his stomach.
“I just saw the open net and got a little antsy,” Marchand told NBCSN’s Pierre McGuire after the game. “I should’ve just chipped it out but you live and you learn.”
“I thought March was real good, played a lot of minutes, situation dictated that,” Bruce Cassidy said about Marchand’s return during his postgame press conference. “It wasn’t how we drew it up but he’s certainly capable of it.
Also making big news with his return was David Backes. Roughly just four weeks after having several inches of his colon removed, Backes surprised many upon his return.
“I think I felt better than I expected to feel…four weeks off, you know, 20-something games into the season, everyone is hitting their stride and trying to catch up from 10 days sitting around, not doing anything is a bit of a challenge,” Backes said. “But that’s a credit to the training staff and strength staff here. You know, those skates where you’re alone and in the practices, you’re getting some work done so you can seamlessly transition into the game.”
Though he did not show up on the score sheet, Backes brought his physical style of play in his return. On top of that, Backes made several simple, but nifty plays, one of which included poking the puck off the line to save a goal.
“Just desperation there,” Backes said of the play. “They had maybe two or three plays just like that where they got a little speed on the outside. Before we knew what was going on, they had one of those on Tuukka [Rask]. You know, I recognized it early enough I think to get a couple steps and try to use my long reach to get a little piece of it. Thankfully, I got a piece of the puck and not a player, and then the net knocks off so I can take a breath and regain my composure.”
Backes saw about 19 minutes of ice time during the game and he too was on the ice during the waning seconds.
“I liked [David] Backes,” Cassidy said. “He was physical; you could tell there was a little rust, which we expected, but just having his presence out there.”
Ryan Spooner also returned to the lineup from a lower-body injury suffered in October, collecting an assist on what turned out to be the game-winner. About six minutes into the middle frame, Spooner picked up a loose puck in the near corner and proceeded to step in between Dan Girardi and Nikita Kucherov. Spooner then whipped a pass to Torey Krug, who was waiting by the far side faceoff circle to bury a one-timer past Vasilevskiy for the 3-0 advantage.
Spooner also saw some significant time on the Bruins’ two power play opportunities.
“[Ryan] Spooner was good, he didn’t play as much as the other guys but made a good play on [Torey] Krug’s goal,” Cassidy stated, “and if we had more power plays, it looked like he had some jump in the situations he’s good at or excels at, I guess is a better way to put it.”
On a night that Boston took the ice without David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, the gaping holes were more than filled with the return of Marchand, Spooner and Backes. With the Bruins having won five of their last six with the number of injuries they have, one can only wonder the potential this team has if they are ever fully healthy.