TORONTO - It's hard to describe a game in mid-November as critical for a team siting in first place in their division, but given how the past week had played out for the Bruins, leaving Scotiabank Arena without a victory would have been a hard pill to swallow.
Entering the tilt against the Maple Leafs, the B's had dropped four straight games, the last of which was a stunning loss to the Florida Panthers that saw them surrender a four-goal lead in the third period.
But getting the Black & Gold train back on the tracks against one of their fiercest division rivals - in enemy territory - was no easy task. With the contest tied to start the third period, someone was going to have to step up if Boston was to snap its skid.
Enter Brad Marchand.
The 31-year-old winger was a force over the final 20 minutes, potting two goals early in the frame to guide the Bruins to a much-needed 4-2 victory in his 700th career game.
"He really took it over in the third there," said Tuukka Rask, who made 29 saves in the win. "He wanted to be a difference maker. He's an impressive player. He's got a lot of skill and it shows."
Video: Marchand scores twice as Bruins top Maple Leafs
With his two third-period tallies, Marchand now has 13 on the season, the fourth-highest total in the National Hockey League. He also leapfrogged over linemate David Pastrnak for the team scoring lead with 32 points, which ranks third in the NHL behind Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
"I think that you have to rely on some of your best players…obviously he showed why he's [one of our] best players, not just on our team, but in the league. He scored big goals for us," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who added an empty-netter with 1:33 remaining.
Marchand wasted little time putting the Bruins ahead, notching the go-ahead goal just 11 seconds into the third period. Following a faceoff win by Patrice Bergeron, Brandon Carlo delivered a feed to Marchand at the red line, allowing him to enter the Toronto zone with speed.
After a slick move to get around Maple Leafs blue liner Morgan Rielly, Marchand - still being hampered by Rielly - was able to get a soft shot off the left pad of netminder Frederik Andersen. Marchand followed his shot and tapped the rebound home for a 2-1 Bruins advantage.
"There's times where you can tweak him a little bit," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "We did that a little between periods…sometimes that line, they go well and then they over pass a little. We saw a little bit of that…sure enough, they get refocused and they're hard to play against."
Video: BOS@TOR: Marchand puts home his own rebound in 3rd
Toronto responded just under four minutes later to knot things up at 2 on Kasperi Kapanen's point-blank wrister, but Marchand came through once again with an answer of his own only 1:14 after that to give Boston the lead for good.
Charlie Coyle - who opened the scoring in the first period with his third of the season - started the sequence with some strong puck possession down low and eventually found Marchand in the slot. Marchand collected the feed and let go a wrister that clanked off Andersen's mask and bounced to the right of the cage.
Much like he did on his first goal, Marchand followed his shot and snapped the rebound by Andersen to put Boston up, 3-2, at 5:08 of the third.
"Just trying to get it to the net, the first one especially," Marchand said of his mindset ahead of both goals. "Was just trying to get it there. The second one, I was just trying to go a little bit higher. Actually, should've had a little more patience and pulled it to my backhand. It worked out."
That it did. Marchand, now 19 games into his 11th NHL season, is on pace to shatter his career-high, 100-point campaign from a season ago and his career-high of 39 goals set in 2015-16. Not that he's keeping track of the numbers.
"Not really thinking about it, to be honest," said Marchand. "When you start getting caught up in stats, it just starts to go downhill. I think the biggest thing about our group is we try to go game to game and focus more on the process.
"If we consistently play well every night, good things are gonna happen. We're a good team, so we expect to win and produce all across the board."
Video: BOS@TOR: Marchand cleans up own rebound for goal