The Boston Bruins faced some real adversity last week when they lost three games in a row for just the second time since Jim Montgomery took over as head coach in the summer of 2022.
A 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, a 7-4 defeat to the New York Rangers and an ugly 5-2 loss to the then-last place Columbus Blue Jackets highlighted some defensive weaknesses the B's needed to address. Boston was giving up way too many quality scoring chances and goals.
How would they respond to their first real adversity of the season? Who would step in these tough times without Patrice Bergeron on the ice or in the locker room? Were the Bruins not as good as what their stellar win-loss record would indicate?
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Enter Brad Marchand.
The Bruins captain stepped up and put the team on his back over the last three games. The Bruins have won three straight -- 3-0 over the Sharks, 4-3 over the Leafs (in OT) and 3-1 over the Blue Jackets -- and Marchand was the catalyst during this run.
Marchand led a potent Bruins attack Saturday night against a very good Leafs squad in Toronto. He finished with eight shots on net and scored the winning goal in overtime. What could have been another tough loss for the Bruins -- they blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 -- turned into another exciting victory over a division rival.
Sunday is when the real fireworks happened.
Boston's offense was struggling with zero goals through two periods. The B's were in danger of losing twice in a seven-day span to a bad Blue Jackets team. And then Marchand simply took over and dominated the game. He scored a natural hat trick in the third period, and it took him a little less than eight minutes to do so.
"Unbelievable – natural hat trick in the third," Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy told reporters Sunday night. "It really felt like he just kind of threw us on his back and said, ‘I'll take us across the finish line here.' He has that capability. He plays with so much passion and energy."
The Bruins secured a 3-1 victory, giving them a 17-4-3 record (37 points) that's tied for the best in the NHL.
The Bruins have lost a lot of great leaders in recent years. Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, David Krejci, Bergeron and other veterans have retired or left the team since 2020. Boston's leadership core looks a little different this season, but it's still strong because of Marchand. He's learned from the best, and now it's his turn to run the show.
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Leadership is shown in many different ways, including on-ice performance. Marchand's scoring, aggressiveness in the attacking zone and overall competitiveness helped lift the Bruins to a couple much-needed victories.
“He’s a true leader, and we all knew that from the beginning," Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman told reporters postgame Sunday. "And for him to take it on his back and just not take no for an answer after a back-to-back, three-in-four is what leaders do. He's going to show up at the right times. He's been doing that his whole career, really special night for him."
Marchand's leadership also showed up in practice, according to Montgomery.
"I think his leadership stood out more while we were going through our adversity and losing and how well he led us in his practice habits and helping the team dig in on the checking part of our game," Montgomery said in his postgame press conference Sunday.
Marchand has 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 24 games this season, which ranks second on the team behind David Pastrnak's 36. He's on track to score at a point per game or better for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. Marchand doesn't have a reputation as an elite offensive player, but few players over the last 10 to 13 years have been more productive than the B's captain.
Marchand has scored 362 goals since the start of the 2011-12 campaign. Only three players have scored more during that span -- Alex Ovechkin (526), Steven Stamkos (406) and John Tavares (381). Just seven players have tallied more points than Marchand's 843 over that period.
It's not easy taking over as captain after a player like Bergeron, but Marchand has made a smooth transition into the role, while also helping drive the Bruins' success at both ends of the ice 5-on-5 and special teams. Few players make a more profound all-around impact than the 35-year-old left wing.