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Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins fires a puck in against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on March 4, 2024. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs 4-1.Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Maybe it’s just as simple as Brad Marchand.

With Patrice Bergeron gone, Marchand has become the Boston Bruins. It’s not statistical. It’s a way of being in the world.

The Bruins came into Toronto on Monday night staggering. They’d lost five of six. They’d been embarrassed in their last game against the Islanders. They were in real danger of going from first to third in the Atlantic Division in the space of two weeks.

But Marchand wouldn’t allow that. He didn’t score in a 4-1 Boston victory. He just happened to be around whenever things were going Boston’s way.

“We win by committee,” Marchand said afterward, though everyone knows who chairs that committee.

The result was a line in the sand for the Maple Leafs. Having had a chance to trim Boston’s lead over them to four points, they now trail by eight. The two teams will play again on Thursday in Massachusetts. If the Bruins win that one, the standings are more than likely set as they are. That would mean a first-round matchup beginning at Boston’s TD Garden.

A lot of people want this to happen, though the Leafs themselves avoid talking about it.

Since last year’s Bruins juggernaut was derailed by Florida in the first round, that’s the new way to beat them. Get them early, while they’re still stretching out. Hope they are all one night on a wonky mattress away from the ICU. Grind them.

On the other hand, nobody thinks that’s going to happen twice. The only thing worse than a Bruins team that’s winning is a Bruins team that’s losing. Come the start of the postseason, it will have been three years since Boston won a playoff series. That seems like a long time.

It has become an article of faith in Toronto that Boston is the problem. That wherever this Leafs’ generation is headed, it either goes through the Bruins or breaks on the shoals of that club.

But that’s not quite right. It’s not Boston the Leafs can’t figure out. It’s Marchand and colleagues like him.

The Leafs don’t have these types of players – the Marchands, Charlie Coyles and Jake DeBrusks. These multitool sorts who become different players on different nights depending on the job at hand. Guys who lie in the middle of the Venn diagram of skilled, tough, relentless and vicious. Sometimes vicious gets it done.

What Toronto has instead are three David Pastrnaks and a bunch of James van Riemsdyks. It has offensive stars who need to be constantly telling you they are two-way players rather than just showing you. And then they have a bunch of guys who are serviceable NHLers.

You watch the Bruins run literal rings around the Leafs on a penalty kill and it occurs that this is not tactical. Nobody drew this up. This is just a team’s hockey will in action. They want to impose themselves more than the Leafs are able to resist that imposition.

When Marchand talks about a committee, the Bruins represent that on and off the ice.

Nobody is a greater interpreter of hierarchies than a professional athlete. They all know precisely where they stand in the pecking order at all times.

Right now, the Leafs’ hierarchies are shifting. As captain and close to the team’s highest earner, John Tavares was at the top a couple of years ago. Now he’s slipping to the middle. He doesn’t score as much as he used to. Soon, he won’t earn nearly as much.

The Leafs will tell you that this is a good thing – that, at 33 and not the player he once was, Tavares is more effective running an energy line that comes out of the gate third. But do you think Tavares likes where he’s ended up? He’s accepted it. That’s not the same thing.

Auston Matthews has taken Tavares’s place, but second-in-command is up for grabs. Last year, you’d have said it would be Marner. Then William Nylander was feted to the skies for the first half of the year and grabbed the second-biggest contract on the team. Until he gets his own new deal, Marner is pushed back into the Iago role. On a me-first team like the Leafs, that is a potential point of friction.

No one on the Leafs ever talks about a committee because everyone knows who runs things. It’s more like a cabal on top.

The Bruins hierarchies are more fluid. Marchand is in charge. That’s obvious. He even dresses like something out of The Godfather – black on black on black.

He makes less money than Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy. He makes much less than Pastrnak. At his age (35), he’s never going to make more than he makes right now.

But that’s how you create a flat society. No one’s got everything better than everyone else.

The Leafs pay five guys more than Marchand. They pay T.J. Brodie nearly as much. We won’t even get into what they’re paying the guys on long-term injured reserve.

If he played in Toronto, Marchand’s salary would be a regular topic of discussion. But since he works on the committee in Boston, it never is. He’s being recompensed in other ways. Rings, for example. History, for another.

How do you create a team like Boston? No idea. But I’ll tell you one thing you don’t do – you don’t appoint three superstars to run the steering commission and assume everyone else is enthusiastically jumping on board with everything they decide. The proof is in the results.

To win this year or any other, Toronto will have to go through Boston. The history is not changing. The only thing you can affect is the personnel. The personnel affect the approach. It’s like any business – if all your employees don’t feel invested, work’s not going to be much fun.

Maybe that’s the final test. When you watch these two teams going into games that really matter, top to bottom, the worst player as well as the best, which club looks like it’s enjoying itself more?

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