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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Midway through the 2010-11 season, the word around the NHL was that No. 63 on the Boston Bruins needed to be taught a lesson for his after-the-whistle antics and questionable hits.
On Jan. 1, Brad Marchand (No. 63) had scored just six goals, and coach Claude Julien pulled him aside to remind him of a promise he had made to the coach in his 2009-10 exit meeting, that he would score 20 goals this season.
"I wasn't sure I believed he was going to score 20 goals for us," Julien said earlier in the Stanley Cup finals. "I told him he had a lot of making up to do. He just smiled at me."
|In addition to being a pest to opposing teams, Brad Marchand has nine goals this postseason, a record for Bruins rookies.|
Julien also reminded Marchand that while he didn't mind him getting under the skin of opponents, he needed him to walk the line and not cross over to a side where he would put his team in a short-handed position. He wanted him to shed the "dirty" and "pest" labels.
"Unfortunately, he's been looked upon here in this league more as a pest, stirring things up," Julien said. "What people don't know about Brad is he's got really good skills. He's got a great release, good shot, good speed. He's very capable of playing a good game."
Marchand proceeded to light it up in the second half of the season, finishing with 21 goals. The speedy 5-foot-9, 183-pound agitator started to prove to his coach, his teammates and his opponents that he could be more than just a pest who left other teams wanting to teach him a few lessons. He was showing them he was a dangerous two-way player who could burn them at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill, where he ended up with a team-leading five short-handed tallies.
The well-rounded game Marchand exhibited in the second half has become a crucial part of the Bruins' playoff run. The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native has broken the team record with nine goals this postseason, including a huge tone-setter in Game 6 when he beat Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo with a laser of a wrister top shelf and short-side to open the scoring at 5:31 of the first period.
That started a four-goal outburst in a 4:14 span that sent Luongo to the bench in favor of backup Cory Schneider and the Canucks looking for the quickest exit out of TD Garden, their house of horrors as they allowed 17 goals and scored only three in the three games there in the Stanley Cup finals.
"He seems to have a knack to come up with some timely goals or hits or he just generates energy and chances with his skating," linemate Patrice Bergeron said recently. "He hustles and gives his all on every shift."
The Bruins are 8-0 in the playoffs when Marchand has scored a goal.
While Marchand has proved he can be a clutch player and much more than the agitator he was labeled when he arrived in the Bruins' organization last season, he at times reverts to the selfish, immature and undisciplined action that has opposing scouts, general managers, coaches and players wanting send a message to him should they get the chance.
There was the March 8 pregame session with the media in Montreal when Marchand poked fun at the Canadiens and called faking and diving part of their game.
On March 31, as the Bruins headed to the dressing room for the second intermission with a comfortable lead over Toronto at TD Garden, Marchand made a golf swing motion at the Maple Leafs' bench since they would not be going to the playoffs. The Leafs came back in the third period to win the game, and following the game, Marchand was chastised by Julien.
"It's just one of those things. He's been a good player for us, and again, his emotions can sometimes be a positive, but sometimes you don't want to cross the line," Julien said at the time. "You certainly don't like that when it happens. So it's just a learning process."
Marchand knew he was wrong.
"I got a little bit of an earful from Julien between periods," Marchand said after the game. "It won't happen again."
But there have been instances during the playoffs when Marchand has let his emotional edge get the better of him. Such as toward the end of Game 4 of the Cup finals when he brushed off his hands while skating past the Canucks' bench as if to say, "I'm done with you."
And of course there was Game 6, when he repeatedly punched Daniel Sedin. When asked after the game why he did it, he simpoly responded, "Because I felt like it."
Marchand has admitted he needs to stop doing "stupid stuff," but as veteran forward Mark Recchi pointed out, the rookie winger is learning and improving. While there is still work to be done when it comes his channeling his emotion the right way, Recchi would rather take the occasional mistakes if that emotional edge helps Marchand play the way he has played this playoff season.
"He's a young kid that plays on the edge, and sometimes the emotions get the best of him," Recchi said. "But when you're young, that's not a bad thing. I would rather have a kid like that than a kid that plays with no emotion. It's a big part of his game, and he's learning. He's learning to corral it when he needs to, and when we need a lift, he's learned to go out and do it. That's the sign of a smart, young player who wants to get better and better.
"It was a huge goal he scored, and he emotionally kept on driving for us. It's a great thing. He's such a good kid, and it's nice to see him get rewarded but also play an intelligent game. He still played with the edge, but it was on the right side of it."
Julien is taking the same approach and looking at the good Marchand has brought to his team, which is one win from its first Stanley Cup since 1972.
"He's been a great player for us all year," Julien said following Game 6. "He's a good energy player. That goal that he scored tonight was certainly a highlight reel goal. The shot that he took was an extremely accurate and hard shot from an off wing, and that's the caliber of a Brad Marchand shot. Hopefully with more confidence you're going to see him use that even more.
"He's been a great, great player for us. For a first-year player, he's been great. When you look at how he's handling himself in the Stanley Cup finals, you certainly can't complain as a coach."
Winger Milan Lucic, who himself thrives off bringing a physical edge to his game, was excited and energized from Marchand's Game 6 play and wants his teammate to keep walking that line, bringing his edge to Game 7.
"He's been a big part of our team taking that step to get to this point," Lucic said. "He's had a lot of big goals, and when he plays with that edge like he's played with all season long -- he needs to bring that next game."
As for those around the league who wanted a message to be sent to Marchand for his borderline plays and agitating style, they still would love to see that happen. But as one NHL pro scout based in the Northeast said recently, Marchand is the prototypical "love him when he's on your team, hate him when he's not" type of player.
"He's really grown on me," said the scout, who attends most Bruins home games. "I don't like him, because he's not on our team, but he has proven he is more than just a little pest."
The Bruins are hoping he can prove that one more time in Game 7 and help them bring home the Cup.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.