What do Brad Marchand, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos have in common?
They're among the NHL's elite forwards. They're counted on by their respective teams to provide offense. And, through just seven playoff games, they've all been frustrated into stupidity by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Tuesday night's 2-1 Game 3 win over the Boston Bruins was simply the latest in a recent string of top players losing their cool and hurting their team.
In case you (somehow) missed it, noted pest Marchand made waves for a jab to the back of Scott Harrington's head that went unnoticed by referees, and as we learned on Wednesday, unpunished by the NHL's Department of Player Safety. It's the most recent in a long series of questionable plays by Marchand dating back to 2011. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, when asked about the play, acknowledged that "that play should have been penalized." But it wasn't.
Though the head shot grabbed headlines coming out of Game 3, Marchand should be garnering similar negative attention for a completely separate incident: his incredibly dumb penalty that gave the Blue Jackets a power play, in which Matt Duchene scored to give the home team a 2-0 lead.
It's not the first time this series that Marchand's frustration penalties have cost the Bruins. In the Blue Jackets' Game 2 win, Columbus scored a power-play goal 1:03 into the second period after Marchand got called for a "chintzy" penalty (Don Cherry's words, not mine) for cross-checking Alexandre Texier at the end of the first period.
Not all penalties are created equal. These weren't trips that prevented a miraculous scoring chance, nor big hits where the referees feel compelled to call, well, something. These were stupid, indefensible plays where Marchand decided to test the referees' patience and risk putting his team at a disadvantage.
Bruce Cassidy says he intends to have a discussion with Brad Marchand about his discipline. He's taken two penalties in this series -- both led to #CBJ PP goals. "We need him on the ice," said Cassidy.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 1, 2019
So while Blue Jackets fans call for Marchand to be suspended, you could also suggest the opposite: Marchand, while a gifted player, has no points in three games of this series, while simultaneously taking two dumb penalties that hurt his team. In a bizarro-world scenario, Columbus would/could/should actually lobby for Marchand to not be suspended given that he’s actually been more beneficial to the Blue Jackets.
Craig Custance of The Athletic had this to say when asked if Marchand should have been suspended:
To me, it says just as much about the Blue Jackets and their ability to frustrate top players as it does Marchand. This is what he does. None of us should be surprised by it. What’s more surprising is that he’s three games into this series and doesn’t have a single point. Much like Kucherov, whose frustration boiled over into a suspension in Round 1 versus the Blue Jackets, Marchand’s offensive production has been shut down. The Blue Jackets will take opposing star players making headlines over boneheaded plays rather than goals, all day long.
Ah, yes, Kucherov. The OG of superstar-forward-that's-been-so-frustrated-in-the-playoffs-by-these-Columbus-Blue-Jackets-that-he-turned-to-the-dark-side™, Kucherov made it all of two games (well, almost) before taking out his anger on Markus Nutivaara, who was injured on the play and has yet to play since.
Kucherov wasn't the only Lightning star player guilty of similar tomfoolery. In these playoffs, captain Steven Stamkos' legacy will be his punch to the face of referee-held Nick Foligno. His mere two points, both of which came in a Game 4 loss, are a mere afterthought. Like Kucherov before him and Marchand after, Stamkos felt the pressures of being counted on to produce offense and failing to deliver. Knowing his team was going down 3-0 in the series, Stamkos lost his cool and did something out of character.
Though he responded in Game 4, the damage had been done. Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos summed that sentiment up nicely when discussing Marchand's punch from the Blue Jackets' standpoint:
"If I need to take that little rabbit shot from Brad Marchand to win this series, I will take 10 of them. The most important thing is that if Brad Marchand feels that the focus of his game right now is to get those stupid little shots in, it means he's not scoring, it means he's frustrated, it means he's not focusing on getting his team back in the series. That's all good for us. I'll take that all day long."
This series is far from over. Marchand and the rest of the Bruins top scorers could easily have a big Game 4 and stop the momentum. They're certainly due. But through seven games this postseason, Columbus has shown a propensity for keeping the opposition's stars off the scoresheet and in the penalty box. If that can continue, it's nothing but positive for the Blue Jackets.