By missing a connection with Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand tossed away all of his team’s first-period momentum.
Ryan Callahan picked off Marchand’s pass, blew through two half-hearted backchecks, and beat Tuukka Rask to tie Game 2 at 1-1 at 8:01 of the first period.
“Maybe I was a little overconfident,” Marchand said. “I was controlling the puck pretty good the last game. It seemed to be going the same way. After that, I tried to keep it a little more simple and get pucks in deep.”
Marchand got the message. In the second period, Marchand won a race for the puck to set up Johnny Boychuk for the winning goal. In the first minute of the third, Marchand gave the Bruins the space they needed by tapping a short-range shot past Henrik Lundqvist for a 4-2 lead.
With Sunday’s 5-2 win, the Bruins have a 2-0 series edge. They could grab a 3-0 lead with another win Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. This, of course, was the team that was half a period away from reserving tee times at The Country Club.
“Ten minutes, we could have been out,” Boychuk said. “Now we’re up, 2-0, and we have to not go into New York and lay an egg. We have to go in there, battle hard, and make sure to win this next game. It’s a crucial game for us.”
Marchand is one of the Bruins’ difference-makers. He touches the game in every area: even strength, power play, penalty kill. There are those extra layers of abrasiveness and punky behavior that drive opponents cuckoo.
Game 2 was the Good Marchand overcoming Bad Brad. In the first period, with the Bruins up, 1-0, it wasn’t Marchand’s giveaway to Callahan — the left wing was aiming for Chara at the left point – that peeved his coach. It was how Marchand failed to slow down Callahan after he committed the turnover.
“He knows that defensively tonight, there were a couple things,” Claude Julien said. “Not so much the puck that didn’t make it across on the first goal. But probably how he reacted to coming back.”
One of Marchand’s hallmark traits, however, is his swagger. Some players lose their confidence and become afraid to make more mistakes. Their skates slow. Their sticks turn heavy. Not Marchand.
“Sometimes when you’re overthinking, you put too much pressure on yourself,” Julien said. “It just weighs on you. Right now, it’s almost like the young guys: Go out there and play. He’s a quick player. He’s a shifty player. He’s very capable of doing that.”
In the second, with the score tied at 2-2, Marchand’s hustle and smarts put the Bruins ahead for good. Patrice Bergeron won a neutral-zone faceoff against Derek Stepan. Marchand chased down the puck and read the play. He recognized that Callahan was defending him tightly. Both Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi had dropped back, giving the Rangers numbers in front of Lundqvist.
Marchand’s best play was going back up top to Boychuk. Bergeron had gone to the front of the net to engage Girardi. So when Marchand gave the puck to Boychuk, the defenseman had a clear shooting lane with a screen in front. With a rare wrist shot instead of his signature slapper, Boychuk snapped the puck through Bergeron’s screen and past Lundqvist at 12:08, snapping the tie.
Marchand’s grunt work wasn’t over. After Matt Bartkowski sealed off the wall against Stepan, the Bruins gained control of the puck and rushed through the neutral zone. Bergeron went one-on-one against Del Zotto. Marchand got Girardi tangled up by sprinting to the far post. When Bergeron’s cross-ice pass arrived, Marchand had position on Girardi to tap in the feed at 0:26.
The linemates’ legs through center ice gave them the scoring chance that Marchand buried. The Rangers offered little neutral-zone resistance in Game 2. The Bruins owned center ice.
“That’s a huge part of our game, trying to use our speed to our advantage,” Marchand said. “I know if I’m able to bust through the seams, Bergy’s going to hit me. Then we’ll get opportunities, and he knows the same. I think our whole team is definitely using that to our advantage right now. All that with chipping pucks in deep, we’re a tough team to play against.”
Marchand’s goal gave the Bruins the third-period energy they wanted. After that, they never lifted off the gas. Milan Lucic scored at 12:39 for a three-goal lead.
“I don’t like our team when we play on our heels and we’re just trying to protect a one-goal lead,” Julien said. “We’ve got to extend the lead and extend it even more before we even think about protecting it. Our guys were smart. They put pucks at the net. They went to the net hard. We won the battles for those loose pucks. We found a way to score those goals.”
The Bruins have a 2-0 series lead despite being without Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, and Wade Redden. The pre-series fear was that it would be the opposite scenario: The Rangers would take advantage and swipe the first two games.
In retrospect, those defensemen can take more time to heal.