No Licking Allowed: The curious case of Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand remains a puzzling star player for the Bruins. A top 10 player who can impact the game in all three zones with his tenaciousness combined with speed and skill, The Rat was up to his old tricks during last night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Lightning in Game 4 of the Atlantic Final in Boston.

A polarizing player due to his penchant for controversial plays that have resulted in suspensions and plenty of eye rolling from the hockey community, Marchand had a significant role on Friday night at TD Garden. Let’s get to the good part first.

With his team already in a early 2-0 hole, Marchand helped bring the Bruins back. He was in on two of three consecutive goals scored by Boston. The first came on a power play goal finished off by David Pastrnak that cut the deficit to one.

Following a Patrice Bergeron power play goal that tied the score in the second period, a bad call on Bruins fourth liner Noel Acciari put them down a man. With the partisan Bruins crowd booing and giving it to the refs for such a lousy call, Marchand made a great play to force a turnover at the Bruins blueline.

The feisty Boston pest then skated down the right side with the puck as Bergeron cut to the net. Marchand made a perfect centering feed that Bergeron neatly redirected past Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for a shorthanded goal with 13:24 remaining in the third. The well executed play gave the Bruins their first lead.

It may have held up had the refs not swallowed their whistles on a controversial no call that led directly to Steven Stamkos tying the score with 7:04 left in regulation. The play in question saw Lightning scorer Nikita Kucherov hook down Boston rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy. That freed up the puck for J.T. Miller to retrieve and make a perfect centering pass to a open Stamkos for a one-time blast past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.

It was definitely a missed call. Considering what they called earlier on Acciari, it was inexcusable. Such inconsistent officiating has been going on the whole playoffs. That the no call which should’ve been a hooking minor penalty on Stamkos impacted the outcome is inexcusable.

Tampa took full advantage with Dan Girardi playing the role of unlikely hero when he was able to get one hand on his stick to deflect home a Alex Killorn pass in front to beat Rask at 3:18 of the first overtime. A feel good moment for the former Rangers defenseman who has found a new home with familiar faces in Tampa after getting bought out last summer.

In between all this, Marchand managed to pull some of his antics which are still being discussed in social platforms. With one of the best point producers in the league, it’s always the Good, Bad and Ugly literally. For some reason only known to him, he can’t stay away from trouble.

The first ugly incident took place in a physical second when following a clean Ondrej Palat check on Boston’s Adam McQuaid, Marchand responded by going low on Ryan Callahan for a dirty hit that could’ve seriously injured the ex-Ranger captain. He low bridged him which an irate Callahan didn’t take kindly to.

What happened next was typical Marchand. Known for licking opponents- particularly Leafs forward Leo Komarov during the regular season and in Boston’s first round series win- Marchand did the same thing to Callahan after he was pushed and yelled at. Here is how the ugly scene looked:

I don’t know what the heck Marchand’s thinking. With it not the first such incident involving his tongue, the league has warned him that he’ll face discipline if there’s a next time. I would’ve fined him the max. Tampa coach Jon Cooper had a strong take on such ugliness which doesn’t belong in the game.

It’s beyond comprehension. This is a player who received a five-game ban for a blatant elbow that concussed Devils forward Marcus Johansson. He missed significant time and didn’t return until the postseason.

Over his nine-year NHL career, the 29-year old Marchand has been suspended six times for 19 games while forfeiting $872,522.61. He’s also been fined three times.

Interestingly, he’ll celebrate his 30th birthday on May 11. By then, the Bruins could be eliminated. Game 5 is tomorrow in Tampa Bay at 3 PM.

Marchand is over a point-per-game dating back to ’16-17 when he achieved a career high 85 points including 39 goals in 80 games. In 68 contests this past season, he matched his career best with 85 points to increase his production on the best line in hockey with Bergeron and Pastrnak. In between the controversial plays and Lick Gate I and II, he’s managed to put up 17 points (4-13-17) in 11 games this postseason.

What if he cut out the crap and just played hockey? He would be much better received. But would changing his style affect him? Some players must play on the edge to be effective. Marchand isn’t the biggest guy. Generously listed at 5-9, 181, he has to play tough to win some of those board battles. More often than not, he comes out with the puck and makes things happen.

At a average cap hit of $6.125 million per season all the way through 2023, he’s easily one of the biggest bargains in the game. But at what cost? If he continues down this immature path, the Bruins might finally conclude enough is enough. Even some of his own fans are getting tired of it.

So, will he ever change? I don’t know. I can’t get inside his head. What I do know is despite everything, he remains one of my favorite players. But this really needs to stop. He’s doing himself and the NHL a disservice. Clean up your act.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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