Hockey is the ultimate team sport in the sense that by design, no player is bigger than their club and the best teams are the ones that have all their players sacrificing themselves (blocking shots, not chasing stats, etc.) for the betterment of the group. On Tuesday at TD Garden, Boston (44-30-6) achieved its first goal of the 2016-17 regular season as they blanked Tampa Bay (39-30-10) to clinch its first playoff spot in three years. For an organization and fan base starved for playoff hockey, the simple joy of reaching the postseason cannot be understated. Unfortunately for the B’s, one of their best players-left wing Brad Marchand-undermined some of the excitement by spearing Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin in the groin late in the first period. That cheap shot earned him a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct.
Already well-known to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety (which is never a good thing), Marchand has a hearing on Thursday morning for that completely needless incident. This is where it gets sketchy since there are only two games left in the regular season for the Bruins: Thursday (7, NESN) vs. Ottawa (42-27-10) and Saturday afternoon (3, NBC) vs. Washington (53-18-8). Remember, this is the same guy that has already been suspended on six different occasions in his NHL career and earlier this campaign was fined $10,000 (the maximum allowed by the league) for slew-footing an opponent (his old standby move).
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy (who improved to a remarkable 18-7-0 since taking over) termed it an “undisciplined play” but neither he nor Marchand’s teammates would fully throw him under the bus for this incredibly stupid play. What makes it so frustrating is that we all wanted to believe that Marchand had fully grown up this season. He’s unquestionably become one of the best players in the NHL, leading the B’s with 39 goals (a career-high) and 46 assists (also a career-high) while playing in all 80 games. Ironically, I’m sure that he had a clause in his contract that paid him a hefty bonus if he reaches 40 goals in a season. That looks quite unlikely to happen now. More relevant to the Bruins is if he gets suspended since these next two contests mean plenty for them as they try to earn second or third-place in the Atlantic Division and avoid the second Wild Card spot vs. the Capitals.
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I will at least give Marchand a little credit for facing the media after that debacle, since many guys would have ducked out of the dressing room before they had to face any tough questions. He credited his teammates with coming through on the extended penalty kill that he cost them, “guys have backed each other up all year.” He downplayed the seriousness of his transgression, calling it “just a reactionary play,” and he noted that it was “nerve-wracking to watch the rest of the game away from the team.” They’ve been down this road too many times already but like a troubled friend or relative, the Bruins can only hope that this finally serves as a wake-up call to Marchand. He’s far too valuable to be pulling that low-rent garbage anymore.