BOSTON — After practicing Monday morning at the Garden, the Bruins didn't know how long they might be without Brad Marchand, but they certainly knew they would miss him for as long as he was out of the lineup.
"It would hurt us definitely," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said of the potential for a Marchand suspension. "He's elevated his game and has become a big part of this team, already having 16 goals and being up there in points and being a real key guy that we can count on. He's become an important player for us."
Lucic's fears were realized Monday evening when the NHL announced that Marchand would be suspended for five games for his low hit on Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo on Saturday.
So how will the Bruins cope without a guy who is tied for the team lead in goals with 16, third on the team in points with 32 and tied for second in the entire NHL with a plus-27? Quite capably, according to coach Claude Julien.
Julien dealt with playing without Marchand just last Thursday when Marchand missed a game with the flu. Benoit Pouliot moved up to his spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin and proceeded to match a career high with three assists. The line didn't miss a beat, combining for 3-6-9 totals in a 9-0 rout of Calgary.
Pouliot continued his strong play with his regular linemates Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly on Saturday, setting up Peverley for Boston's second goal. Pouliot has 7-7-14 totals and is a plus-15 in 33 games, but has been particularly effective of late with 3-6-9 totals and a plus-11 in his last 10 games.
"Ben played a good game the game Marshy was sick," Julien said. "He's a guy that can certainly play on that line. He's played well enough to deserve to play there and be in that spot. Based on my assessment of him the last game that he played with them, he's a very fitting player to put in there if need be."
Pouliot will likely move into Marchand's spot again in the coming games, but he's not the only option. Julien has some versatile forwards and enviable depth at his disposal. So while the offense has clicked with the lines he's kept together consistently, Julien is not averse to switching things up if necessary.
"I think sometimes we get caught into the situation where we have some stable lines that do a pretty good job," Julien said. "I'm not a coach that switches my lines every game. That's just the way I am. I believe in chemistry. I believe in a bit of patience sometimes. But just because I'm like that doesn't mean certain players can't move around and play with other lines. I'm very aware of that and I know that there can be all kinds of fits.
"When [Nathan] Horton went down last year in the Finals we put Peverley up there and he was a good fit, yet he had been a great fit on that third line," Julien added. "So there's no issues there at all. There's a guy like [Tyler] Seguin that can play center. Zach Hamill can play center. Kelly can play the wing. All those scenarios are there. They're not an issue for us. We just aim a little bit more for stability versus switching things around, but when we do we're not worried about it and we're very comfortable with it as well."
While Pouliot has shown some chemistry with Bergeron and Seguin, filling Pouliot's spot alongside Kelly and Peverley could be more problematic. Hamill will likely get the first crack. He impressed initially upon his recall from Providence earlier this season when he had two points in his first two games and showed a solid two-way game (plus-4), but he has been a bit quiet of late with no points and a plus-2 in his last six games.
The Bruins could bring Jordan Caron (13 games, 1-2-3 totals) or another forward up from Providence for insurance, but any combination of forwards without Marchand will be a considerable downgrade, especially with how Marchand has been playing of late with 7-6-13 totals and a plus-12 in his last 10 games.
Still, the Bruins are better positioned to deal with the loss of a key player than most teams because of their superior depth and versatility, and they are confident they can overcome his loss for the next five games.
"It obviously would be a loss for our team," defenseman Adam McQuaid said after practice. "He's a big part of our team and he's been having a great year. We'll see what happens and whatever the outcome is we'll deal with it. Every team goes through losing players at different points during the season."