He had never missed the playoffs — not until he looked up at the out-of-town scoreboard with a few minutes remaining in the Bruins’ final regular-season game at Tampa Bay on April 11 and saw that the Pittsburgh Penguins had beaten the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s obviously very disappointing,” Marchand said on April 13, during Boston’s season-ending media availability. “It’s tough to describe. You have such high hopes coming into the year, and obviously, with this team, we’re expected to not just make the playoffs, but win the whole thing.”
There were still few minutes remaining in that final game at Tampa on April 11 when the Bruins learned their fate. They were left with little to play for in the waning minutes of what had officially become their last game of the 2014-15 season.
That didn’t matter to Marchand, though. For him, it seems, there is always something to play for, and that is why it seemed fitting that he was the one to put the puck in the back of the net with just over a minute remaining in a 2-1 game, tying the score and sending it to overtime.
That game — that goal, in that situation — was a microcosm of Marchand’s season. He was willing to give it his all, whether there was nothing on the line or everything on the line. He was willing to put the team on his back. He was willing to step up and be a leader when his teammates needed one most.
He had done the same thing two nights earlier, in what was, at the time, Boston’s biggest game of the season against the Panthers. The Bruins needed to win that game in order to keep their fate in their own hands and in order to keep their postseason dreams alive. With hope and optimism draining from the Bruins as more and more time ticked off the clock, Marchand scored to pull Boston within a goal with just under seven minutes remaining.
The Bruins would eventually lose that game 4-2. They would lose two nights later to Tampa in a shootout. But Marchand had the heart to give his team a chance, that night and many others during the 2014-15 season.
Marchand’s season was, by all means, successful. In 77 games, he tallied 24 goals, which led the team, and 18 assists for 42 points with a plus-five rating. He registered his 100th NHL assist, his 100th goal and his 200th point. Twice early in the season, he scored overtime game-winners, delivering victories to a team in desperate need of them.
He afforded consistency during a season in which there didn’t seem to be any — in the lineup, in the win column and in the team’s performance, night in and night out.
But in the end, that mattered very little to Marchand. All that mattered to him was the fact that the team was packing up so early in April.
“I thought the season was OK,” he said, “but at the same time, obviously, you didn’t do enough when you don’t make the playoffs and the team doesn’t succeed. I don’t think any of us played the way we can, and I don’t think anybody would say they had a good year.”
There is no doubt that this was a tough year for the Bruins. That much is obvious when a team misses the postseason for the first time in eight years. At least part of the struggles can be attributed to injuries, which Marchand admitted. The Bruins were without David Krejci for almost half the season, and they lost Zdeno Chara for more than a month early in the season. They lost Dougie Hamilton for the playoff push.
The absences of such key players were disruptive to the team’s momentum and its flow, which the Bruins never seemed able to establish for prolonged periods of time.
“It was definitely tough when Krech went down,” Marchand said. “Our best player wasn’t in the lineup; that definitely takes a lot out of you. It breaks up that first line, and especially when other guys went down. It was an up-and-down year with that.
“We’ve had more injuries this year than I think we might have ever had. It was tough for us, but we definitely still had a talented group. Definitely had enough to get in the playoffs, but obviously, we didn’t play to expectations.”
Marchand also indicated that personnel changes may have contributed to Boston’s slow start. On the ice, the Bruins missed last year’s leading goal scorer in Jarome Iginla, and in the dressing room, they missed some of their most vocal leaders who were no longer with the team, either as a result of free agency or trades.
The silver lining is that players like Marchand had the opportunity to step up. Marchand did that. But playing without those established veteran leaders was an adjustment.
“You can’t replace a guy like Johnny [Boychuk] — it’s tough to replace a guy like him, not just on the ice, but in the room around the guys,” Marchand said. “And Iggy, too — I mean, Iggy is a 30-goal scorer consistently, and 60-point guy.”
But every team goes through personnel changes every year. Neither Marchand, nor anybody else on Boston’s roster, is willing to accept that as the reason for this year’s struggles.
“It’s tough to replace guys like that, but … there’s just so many things that have to go into [success],” Marchand said. “Every year, teams get better and the league gets better. It just seems like this year, the league was so close. Point-wise, we didn’t have a bad year … so you can’t sit here and say we had the worst year ever. It’s just unfortunate that 96 points didn’t get us to the playoffs.
“It’s obviously very disappointing. We didn’t have the same group we had in the past, but we still had a team that was able to compete and to win games, but we didn’t play the way we can all year. Guys didn’t step up when we needed them to. Ultimately, [that’s] what cost us games and the season.”
Regardless of whether this year’s roster struggled to meet expectations, Marchand still believes in the players currently populating the Bruins’ dressing room. He still believes in his teammates, the staff, the system. He believes the Bruins have the capability to be great.
“We’ve won a Cup, we’ve been to another Final, we’ve had some great teams, we won the Presidents’ Trophy,” he said. “[The system] works when you play it and want to believe in it. It’s a great system, so I don’t think it’s a stale message. It works.”
And next fall, when he arrives in Boston in preparation for a fresh campaign, Marchand will remember the feeling he had after that final game against Tampa. He will remember what it was like to pack up before the first round began. And that, he said, will be his fuel going forward.
“To not be [in the playoffs] is different,” Marchand said. “I’ve never missed the playoffs before in my life, so it’s not a good feeling at all.
“It’s definitely something that’s going to drive us next year.”