NEW YORK, NY - When Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella addressed the media before Game Three at Madison Square Garden Tuesday morning, he gave a nod to Bruins' winger Brad Marchand.
"Marchand's probably been the best player in the series so far," said the New York bench boss, when answering a question about how to contain Patrice Bergeron's line.
The 'Little Ball of Hate' went scoreless in the first round series against Toronto, before finding the back of the net twice in the first two games against the Blueshirts - one an overtime-winner in Game One and the next just 26 seconds into the final frame of a 5-2 Game Two win.
"His heart and effort is there," linemate at the time, Tyler Seguin, had said of his teammate. "We've been passionate, we've been working hard. It's just about being a bit smarter, being a bit more confident and calm with the puck."
Both of Marchand's goals this series have been the result of perfect backdoor passes from Patrice Bergeron. The latter coming in a game where Marchand wasn't all too pleased with his puckhandling, having given the Rangers turnovers for them to capitalize on.
"It's a compliment," Marchand said of Tortorella's comments. "But I don't think I played very well last game. I got a goal, but it's another backdoor tap in from Bergy. I had a few too many turnovers there, got caught out of position on their second goal and gave up the first one. I don't think I had a good game last game at all."
Though No. 63 wants to improve his game for Tuesday night's tilt, he has been a much more effective player in this second round series, showing his signature snarl and swagger.
"No," said Coach Julien, on if there was anything particular helping Marchand in this series. "I just think it's Brad being a better player. It's really not the other team making him better, it's Brad making himself better."
"I thought he skated a lot better than he has in the last little while. He's making some plays and obviously creating some scoring situations for himself. I think the biggest part has been the skating part of his game that's really helped him a lot."
"It's nice to see him be rewarded on the scoresheet in this series," said center Chris Kelly, prior to Game Three. "He brings it every game, he's pretty consistent as they come."
Marchand is most effective when he's moving his feet, similar to what helped Milan Lucic turn around his game at the end of the regular season and throughout the playoffs. Though Marchand doesn't have Lucic's size and power, his feisty demeanor helps him win one-on-one battles - and get into the opposition's head.
"He was really good when they won the Cup, he's a good player," said the Rangers' playoff scoring leader Derick Brassard (two goals, eight assists). "He gets in your face. For us, it's just a matter of playing him hard tonight. He's got good speed, he's around the puck all the time."
"For us, we just have to make sure we're in his face and we make it hard on him."
"He's extremely effective," added Rangers' forward Chris Kreider. "He's always around the puck."
Marchand may have a habit of being around the puck, but his habit of putting it past netminders has been starting to come back around as well.
"I think sometimes when you’re overthinking, you put too much pressure on yourself, it just weighs on you," Coach Julien had said following the Bruins' Game Two win at TD Garden, on Marchand's mindset when he wasn't producing offensively. "Right now, it’s just a matter of going out there, almost the same thing as the young guys, ‘go out there and play.’"
"He’s a quick player, he’s a shifty player, and he’s very capable of doing that."
"He knows defensively [Sunday night] there were a couple things, not so much the puck that didn’t make it across on the first [Rangers'] goal, but probably how he reacted to coming back. There’s certain things we talk about, but you’ve got to encourage those guys to keep doing the things that they’ve been good at doing. To me, he’s played two solid games for us."
Marchand wants to help out his team by finding his scoring touch, but also knows that it's the team effort that causes the Bruins to be at their best.
"I think the good thing with our team is we have four solid lines that can do some damage," said Marchand. "If one guy's not going, or one line's not going, it just seems like another line steps up and does the job. It just makes it tougher for teams to shutdown every line."