ST. LOUIS — Before this Stanley Cup Final began, Brad Marchand addressed his Boston Bruins teammates.
The gist of the message was simple: Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
Marchand told the Bruins he had been there before, like five of his other teammates, back in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final - and he didn’t deliver.
It’s almost hard to remember. Marchand is labeled in our brains as a big-game player, assisting on the Cup-clinching goal in 2011 in Vancouver. Marchand was a monster in that Game 7 with two goals and one assist.
But 2013 was a different story. Marchand was blanked in six straight games by the Chicago Blackhawks. He didn’t register a point after posting 13 points in his previous 16 playoff contests that spring.
Marchand told his teammates he regretted it all summer.
“That caught our attention, for sure,” one Bruins player said, not willing to comment publicly on a private conversation. “I think we all took that to heart.”
Two games into this Stanley Cup Final, Marchand has just one empty-net goal to show for himself on the scoresheet. That’s one point in his last eight Final appearances.
It's not hyperbole to say the Bruins' success hinges on his stick: Boston is 24-1 when Marchand scores a goal in his playoff career and 36-42 when he does not.
In the larger scope, the Bruins’ “Perfection Line” with Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Marchand has been, well, more like the “Imperfection Line.” They haven’t made a dent in the series yet after being perhaps the most dominant line in these playoffs.
“We’re not concerned, regardless of how much you guys [the media] want to talk about it,” Marchand said Friday after practice in St. Louis.
How tough has it been for that line to get going against Brayden Schenn and the St. Louis Blues? Well, coach Bruce Cassidy briefly split up the line in the third period of Game 2 in Boston, deploying Pastrnak on a separate line. None of the Bruins’ big three skated north of 12 minutes at even-strength in Game 2.
“It’s been pretty tight, even just watching some video,” Marchand said.
Not only has the Blues’ top line with Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko owned the puck possession game, but the Bruins’ top line has also struggled in the matchup against Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko on defence.
“They’ve done a good job against them,” Cassidy admitted. “Probably the two ‘D-men,’ they have long sticks, they’re mobile, smart. They’ve killed a lot of plays. Forward group, whoever’s played against them, it’s been Schenn, two or three different lines, have done a good job of tracking back so they can’t make a lot happen in front of the D.”
Parayko said that’s been part of the Blues’ gameplan against the Perfection Line.
“You have to have forwards back-checking hard. That gives us the opportunity to tighten up against them,” Parayko said. “They put pucks in good spots for each other and you have to be aware where they are on the ice at all times.”
There is no question that the Bruins’ big guns may be dealing with injury. It’s a war of attrition at this point in the spring.
Remember: the Blues ground down the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final, pushing Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl out of the lineup for the series-clinching game. Oskar Sundqvist knocked Matt Grzelcyk out of the series, at least for now, with a suspected concussion on a hit that cost him a one-game suspension for boarding.
Bergeron missed practice on Friday, with Cassidy calling it a “maintenance day,” but he will play in Game 3 on Saturday night - a moment 49 years in the making in St. Louis.
Marchand was banged up in that pre-Final scrimmage that the Bruins put on during their 10-day layoff between games.
Is either player at 100 per cent? We won’t know that until after Cup is lifted.
They wouldn’t look at that as an excuse anyway. Bergeron played through torn rib cartilage in Game 4 in 2013 against Chicago, which eventually caused his lung to collapse.
For now, Cassidy said he remains confident that the Perfection Line is up to the challenge, which will only get tougher with the Blues having last change at home.
Cassidy predicted that Game 3 would be that line’s “best game of the series.”
“You know them well enough now, seeing how they perform in the playoffs,” Cassidy said. “They’ll eventually get to their game and I believe it’ll be [Saturday].”
There is plenty of recent history for Cassidy to hang his hat on. After rather sluggish starts to each series this spring, the top line has accounted for 16 goals in Games 4 through 7 of the first three rounds (six against Toronto, six against Columbus and four against Carolina). That number is especially impressive because there was only one of those games against Carolina - they scored all four goals in the 4-0 win to sweep the Eastern Conference Final.
“It’s a matter of inches,” Marchand said. “We’re going to keep battling.”
This was supposed to be Marchand’s moment. He has been the only 100-point player standing for three rounds now. Marchand posted 23 more points this season than any player in the Final.
Stanley is still in his sights, but short of a serious series turnaround, he is staring down another summer of regret.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli