Agitator role brings out best in Marchand

BOSTON -- The Little Ball of Hate is wound up pretty tight these days, and the Boston Bruins wouldn’t want it any other way.

When President Barack Obama (or his speech writer) so eloquently gave that nickname to the Bruins’ Brad Marchand during the team’s visit to the White House in January of 2012, it was fitting, given the forward’s size and style of play.

When Marchand is chirping (notably a face-to-face with Brendan Morrow in Game 3) and nasty (tripping Chris Kunitz) on the ice, he’s usually playing well. And that usually translates into wins for the Bruins.

Marchand wasn’t playing with that edge for the majority of the Bruins’ first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Through the first six games he only registered two assists. He admits his confidence was shot, but since the team’s historic Game 7 comeback, when Boston erased a three-goal deficit with 10 minutes remaining in regulation before winning in overtime, Marchand has been a different player.

He’s been himself.

In the last nine games, he’s posted 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) and he’s clearly aggravated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals.

“He’s just more involved, more confident,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said Friday morning in advance of Game 4. “But every year in the playoffs, not only does he become a target for other teams, but he responds to it. What he’s got to do is respond in a positive way. We saw him score that goal, the fourth goal, in Game 2 where he took off, scored a goal. I think that’s a great way to respond. As long as he doesn’t cross the line -- we’ve said that before -- we’ve got to keep him in check. His emotion is what makes him a real good player. You have to let him play with some emotion. Again, as long as he doesn’t cross the line.”

In Game 1 of this series, Marchand was given a two-minute penalty for boarding the Penguins’ James Neal from behind. Pittsburgh was not pleased with the call because Matt Cooke was given a game-misconduct earlier for a similar play on the Bruins’ Adam McQuaid.

Either way, it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs and players on every team pull the same antics. Marchand will chirp with anyone if he thinks it will give his team an edge.

“Things happen out there and you get involved,” Marchand said Friday. “It’s part of the game and it’s exciting. Things are happening after every whistle and it seems like everyone’s involved in something out there.”

During Boston’s 2-1 double-overtime victory in Game 3, Kunitz was skating behind the net when Marchand clearly stuck his leg out. Kunitz didn’t appreciate it and slashed Marchand, dropping him to the ice.

When asked about the encounter, and if he thought there would be any carryover into Game 4, Marchand said: “You mean by him trying to break my leg? That stuff happens. I probably shouldn’t have stuck my leg out, he probably shouldn’t have slashed me, but it happens.”

Like it or not, Marchand plays better when he’s nasty on the ice.

“When I’m more involved your head gets more into the game,” Marchand said. “When your temper flares a bit out there it’s more exciting and your adrenaline’s going. I feel like when I’m more involved in the game I play better like that.”

What’s the worst thing he has said to an opponent?

“I don’t know why you think I’m going to tell you that,” Marchand said with a smile. “I’m not going to give you nothing.”

OK, what about the nicest thing you’ve told an opponent on the ice?

“I’m not going to tell you that, either,” he laughed. “I’m quiet. I don’t say anything to anybody.”

Is it effective?

“Sometimes. Not all the time,” Marchand said.

When it does work, his teammates appreciate it.

“Marchy does his thing,” Chris Kelly said. “A lot of times I can’t keep up with all his antics. He’s one of those players every team will take on their team but dislikes playing against. He’s very effective in whatever he does.”