- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2019

Capitals forward Tom Wilson may have gained a certain reputation around the NHL, especially once he picked up his fourth suspension in 105 combined games last October. But Washington’s young rising star mostly avoided negative attention since then, adapting his style of play in a way 31-year-old Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand has not quite figured out yet.

When Marchand was spotted defusing a tiff rather than starting one during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, coach Bruce Cassidy took the opportunity to praise his player.

“He’s turning over a new leaf, eh?” Cassidy reportedly said with a smile, according to Canadian outlet SportsNet.

Fast forward to Game 2, and that leaf must have blown away in the wind. Hockey fans everywhere but Boston cried foul on social media when Marchand seemingly got away with hooking Carolina captain Justin Williams in the neck area — then goaded Williams into a holding penalty.

The Bruins are up 2-0 on the Hurricanes in the penultimate playoff round and find themselves the new favorites to lift the Stanley Cup. But Marchand’s antics are overshadowing the Bruins‘ elite performances as of late — including Marchand’s own excellent play on offense.

Marchand has earned the reputation of a pest for his six suspensions in seven years and numerous other questionable decisions he’s made. In the broader sports world, he’s most famous for being the player who kept licking his opponents’ faces last year; there’s no formal anti-licking rule, but after catching Marchand during the first round of the 2018 playoffs for the second time in three weeks, the NHL told him to keep his tongue to himself.

But licking is child’s play compared to some of the moves he’s drawn criticism for this postseason.

In Game 3 of the conference semis against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Marchand saw Columbus’s Scott Harrington after a play and popped him a quick punch to the back of the head, then skated away. The officials didn’t call a penalty because they were otherwise occupied and not looking Marchand’s way, but the rest of the building saw it.

When Marchand delivered curt three-word answers in a post-game interview following the Bruins‘ series-clinching Game 6 win on May 6, “Hockey Night in Canada” analyst Kelly Hrudey respectfully called for Marchand to up his maturity level.

“He’s going to be 31 in a month,” Hrudey said. “At what age do you sort of grow up a little bit and go, ‘I just gotta be a better guy?’”

Now the familiar refrains are back due to the Justin Williams play. Some would certainly argue Marchand’s shtick was entertaining — after drawing the penalty, Marchand mocked Williams by holding his hand up in a ‘C’ to his chest, pointing out Williams’ status as the Hurricanes’ captain.

But the problem people had with the play was how it began, with how dangerously close his stick got to Williams’ neck. (It doesn’t help that Marchand plays for a team from Boston, whose recent Patriots’ Super Bowl and Red Sox’ World Series wins likely have exhausted the rest of the country.)

On the heels of his first career 100-point regular season, Marchand leads Boston this postseason with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists).

The Bruins may be the best team still standing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it’s going to get a lot tougher for them if the officials catch Marchand’s next cheap play and dole out punishment.

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