Brad Marchand no doubt loves to get in the middle of everything. Scrums, altercations, you name it.
Connor Clifton loves to bang opposing players and come to the aid of his teammates. With the Bruins trailing 2-1 after a rough second period, the rookie defenseman got in the face of Jordan Staal following his hit from behind on Chris Wagner early in the third period.
The officiating crew — with a handful of questionable calls under their belt — were set to send Staal to the box for boarding. Clifton wanted to get a few shots in on Staal before the Hurricanes forward skated to the sin bin.
Again, Clifton wanted to aid his teammate. Marchand was there too. He didn’t get into any altercations though. Instead, the first line winger showcased his situational awareness; getting Clifton away from Staal so the Bruins could go on the power play in an attempt to even things up.
An inefficient Bruins power play through two periods started the third with a timely goal from Marcus Johansson, his third of the postseason. They can thank Marchand for that equalizer following his veteran move with Clifton.
“He’s turning a new leaf, eh, Marshy?” head coach Bruce Cassidy said with a chukle.
Surprising? Not really. Not according to Clifton.
“Yeah I would expect that, he’s a leader,” the former Quinnipiac blue-liner said. “Obviously we had a power play and it was a bad hit but he stopped me pretty fast.”
Marchand stopped Clifton in his tracks. The Bruins kept their foot on the pedal in the third.
Another power play goal by Patrice Bergeron, an empty net tally for Charlie Coyle and another lamp lighter for good measure from Chris Wagner capped off the Bruins’ first victory of the playoffs when trailing after two periods.
Marchand earned third star honors for his pair of primary assists on Johansson’s equalizer and Bergeron’s go-ahead tally. But Marchand’s actions on Clifton spoke louder than any quote — or his lack soundbites as of late — or statistical output.
“That’s commitment,” Patrice Bergeron said about his fellow partner in crime. “And that’s the type of leadership that we need in the playoffs.”
The Bruins had that leadership from Marchand all season long. It doesn’t come across to some, especially from certain media members that critique every minuscule moment. Short answers with the media, questionable hits and even his social media activity all led to backlash from his critics.
Can he curb his edge at times? Yes. Has he hurt the Bruins at times? Yes. But he stayed composed more often than not as other teams goaded him for attempts at drawing penalties. It all culminated into his first ever 100-point regular season. And it’s why he earned alternate captain status at certain points of the 2018-19 campaign.
Marchand’s postseason hasn’t been all smooth sailing. His three turnovers in Game 1 against a speedy Hurricanes squad quickly put a Bruins blue-line without Charlie McAvoy on their heels.
But the veteran stayed with it. He made a wise choice pulling Clifton. And the Bruins reaped the benefits in their first Eastern Conference Final tilt since sweeping the Penguins in 2013.
“Listen, he’s been in these big games. He’s a Stanley Cup Champion, so he understands maybe a little more than meets the eye sometimes,” Cassidy said.
“Good for Brad. 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.”
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