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Stanley Cup Final

Bruins, Marchand impressing former Boston center Linseman in Cup Final

Says forward 'better player' than he was; likes Blues' old-school style

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

BOSTON -- Ken Linseman looks at today's greased-lightning NHL and figures that with the clock turned back a few years, he'd be a perfect fit.

"It would be great for me because I was faster than 95 percent of the people on the ice," he said.

Then, with a grin: "But on the flip side, I'd be in the penalty box even more than I was. The way we were taught and played was totally different than how the game is played now. So there's good and bad to it, for sure."

 

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Linseman had stepped out of the Boston Bruins alumni suite at TD Garden to chat during the first intermission of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, ultimately a 3-2 overtime win for the visiting St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.

The best-of-7 series is tied with Game 3 at Enterprise Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

Linseman laughs when he's inevitably asked about rough-edged Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who in some ways has been cut from the same frayed cloth as him.

"A lot of similarities between us," he said. "I'd say that Brad is a better player than I was. He's got a great shot and everything he does is really special. It's been fun watching him come up from the minors and develop his role, becoming one of the best players in the League."

Linseman raves about Boston center David Krejci, and says if he laced up today, he'd love to center a line with Marchand and David Pastrnak on his wings.

There's room in the NHL, he says, for players like Marchand and for the skaters who perform with the silky style of Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, whom he calls "probably the best two-way player who's ever played."

Linseman's speed was impressive, a few churning strides taking him to full flight, leaving opponents in his wake. Legendary was his time spent in the penalty box as one of the great agitators and forever prickly thorns of his time, a player who was industrious behind the referee's back and goaded his foes into countless retaliation penalties.

They often joined Linseman in the box, too, where they'd bark at each other as they served their time. In 860 games between 1978-91 -- 389 for the Bruins, 269 for the Philadelphia Flyers, 200 for the Edmonton Oilers and two more to end his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs -- Linseman piled up 1,725 penalty minutes.

But he also had offensive skills, a playmaker with a nice touch around the net that made him a nearly point-per-game center, scoring 807 points (256 goals, 551 assists) with seven 20-goal seasons to his name. He was on the ice for far more goals for his team than against it, finishing plus-221.

And you'll find Linseman's name on the Stanley Cup. He won it as a member of the 1984 Oilers, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 4 against the New York Islanders to end the latter's title streak at four.

Linseman was happily mingling in the alumni suite during Game 2 with former Boston teammates and those who had come and gone before and after him. Dressed in black from head to toe, a salt-and-pepper grizzle on his cheeks and chin, you could see the villain that he was to opponents and their tightly wound fans during a 14-season NHL career. He is 195 pounds today, up 10 from his playing weight, and he looks a decade or more younger than his 60 years, seemingly ready to take a regular shift even now.

He was nicknamed The Rat, which most assume was because of his provocative style of play. In fact, the moniker was given to him by Flyers captain Bobby Clarke, who said Linseman looked like a rat because of how he hunched when he skated. The nickname would spawn the name of a Flyers line of the day, the Rat Patrol, with Linseman at center between Paul Holmgren and Brian Propp.

Of course, Linseman is cheering for the Bruins in this Final, as he says he cheers for all the teams for which he played. He gets to 10 or 15 Boston home games each season and most in the playoffs, coming in from his home in New Hampshire where he enjoys surfing and has been busy since NHL retirement with commercial real estate. Ten to 20 games each year, he'll suit up with the Bruins' fund-raising alumni team, his style maybe toned down a notch.

When he's not in the TD Garden alumni suite, he might be recording games to watch later.

"Hockey has changed from the days of the Big, Bad Bruins," he said of Boston's blue-collar, take-no-prisoners teams of the 1970s that predated his 1984 arrival. "I don't think you can play that way today but look, we have St. Louis in the Final and they're like an old-style-type team, a big, strong, physical team. The Bruins play a great game and they've got plenty of grit.

"I think what I like most today is how well everybody in the League passes the puck. The hockey IQ is probably higher overall than it was in my day. They really see the ice spectacularly. Everybody, number one through 20 on a team, is a good passer who moves the puck really well."

For all of the hard miles travelled and the nearly 29 full games of penalty minutes he was assessed playing for four different teams, it was Linseman's Stanley Cup season in Edmonton that remains the highlight 35 years after the fact.

"That's what we all play for. It was just relief, and satisfaction," he said of the first emotion he felt, having been the center on a line with Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier. "You got what you had worked for your entire life. If I hadn't got there, it always would have been hard. After we won, I had a feeling of calmness."

Not the first word that comes to mind, Linseman understands, to describe a wrecking-ball career that spanned three decades as a fan favorite or as vermin, depending on one's point of view.

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