NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins

Boston’s Brad Marchand hands a stick over the glass after the Bruins beat the Carolina Hurricanes in Thursday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

BOSTON — With 17 minutes, 6 seconds left in a tied early third period, Brad Marchand had a good look from the right wing faceoff circle on the power play. On his knees from the right wing boards, Jake DeBrusk sent a perfect centering pass to Marchand in the left-wing faceoff circle.

In the same spot, 99 other forwards shoot the puck as fast as they can. Petr Mrazek naturally assumed Marchand would too. The goalie slid hurriedly to his left to cut off as much of the angle as he could.

Marchand passed up his good shot to create a great one, simply tapping it to Patrice Bergeron in the slot. Bergeron would have had a great shot in any scenario, but Mrazek’s attempt to block Marchand, pushed him just left enough to give Bergeron an even clearer look at what turned out to be the winning goal in Boston’s 5-2 victory.

Say Marchand’s name in hockey circles and his antics often come to mind first. The agitating and the instigating. The mini slashes and shoves behind the play when nobody’s looking. He’ll never entirely shake face-licking from his reputation. It’s why fan bases around the NHL hate him. It’s why people wildly overreacted to his snippy answers in the postgame after the Bruins finished off Columbus.

For people not paying close attention, those antics have overshadowed the fact that he’s one of the best players in the sport. Maybe that’s by design.

In a split second, Marchand turned down a shot that might have been saved to create a shot that had no chance to be.

Only minutes before that, Jordan Staal’s elbow sent Chris Wagner sprawling to the ice, earning the Carolina forward a boarding penalty with the visitors leading. Connor Clifton raced over to stand up for his teammate, but Marchand grabbed the rookie and pulled him away from the pile to keep him from turning a power play into matching minors.

“He’s a leader,” Clifton said. “We had a power play and it was a bad hit but he stopped me pretty fast.”

The Bruins, on an assist from Marchand, scored on the ensuing man advantage tying the game. Just 28 seconds later, Marchand’s assist to Bergeron gave Boston a lead and momentum in both the game and the series.

The Bruins were 0-3 in the postseason and 3-18-2 in the regular season when trailing after the second period, but Marchand helped make none of that matter.

Coach Bruce Cassidy obviously knows what he’s got.

“Listen, he’s been in these big games. He’s a Stanley Cup champion, so he understands maybe a little more than meets the eye sometimes. There’s a time and a place where you really have to be disciplined. I mean, you have to be disciplined at all times, but there’s certainly other times where you really have to put yourself in check, so it was great for him to do that. It helped us, right?” Cassidy said. “Good for Brad. We’ve put an “A” on his shirt at times this year for a reason, and I’m glad to see that he made that decision tonight with a younger guy.”