RALEIGH, N.C. — After being acquired by the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline, the first thing Marcus Johansson told general manager Don Sweeney was: “I’d much rather be playing with Brad Marchand than against him.”
It’s a line of thinking a couple of Carolina Hurricanes can probably identify with now that they’re in the thick of an Eastern Conference Final with the Bruins pot-stirrer.
For Johansson, the move to Boston meant embracing opportunity — while burying his past with Marchand — and it’s a leap he’s glad he took with his new team now two wins shy of playing for the Stanley Cup entering Game 3 on Tuesday night.
“I’ve never been this far before,” he said. “It just gets more fun every day, I feel like. This is what you play for, this is what you work for your whole career — to play as long as possible and give yourself and the team a chance.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’re on the right path.”
They have managed to raise their game the longer this playoff run has stretched out in part because of Johansson’s contributions. The skilled Swede has always had a knack for big moments and is rewarding the faith Sweeney showed by surrendering a second- and fourth-round pick to bring him in as a rental from New Jersey.
Each of Johansson’s three goals this spring has carried significance: The game-winner in Game 7 vs. Toronto, the insurance goal in Game 6 vs. Columbus and the tying goal in the third period of Game 1 against Carolina, which started a comeback victory.
His speed has been particularly noticeable against the Hurricanes because of how much ice he’s opened up for his linemates. Johansson drove through the offensive zone before setting up Steven Kampfer’s series-opening goal and found Matt Grzelcyk after carrying it out from the corner and crossing up the defenders in Game 2. He then picked up a second assist on Sunday afternoon by waiting until Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek slid out of position before finding Connor Clifton for a tap-in.
“The games from here on out get bigger and bigger and he just keeps playing bigger and bigger,” said linemate Charlie Coyle, another Bruins newcomer. “Contributing on the scoresheet, which helps, but he’s just playing great hockey. Everything he’s doing. You can tell he’s confident, he’s into it, he’s vocal and that’s huge.”
This is the best-case scenario every GM is hoping for when he surrenders futures at the deadline. That’s something Sweeney tried a year ago while bringing in Rick Nash — only to see the big winger limited by a concussion.
There may have been flashbacks when Johansson suffered a lung contusion on the second shift of his fourth game with Boston, taking a big hit from Carolina’s Micheal Ferland. He missed three weeks while recovering and then had to sit out another couple games in the Toronto series with an illness.
He is only finding top gear now.
Injuries have dogged the 28-year-old forward in recent years, including a concussion suffered in January 2018 when Marchand caught him with a vicious elbow to the head. That earned the Bruins winger a five-game suspension and drew a sharp public rebuke from Johansson at the time.
As part of the homework Sweeney did leading up to the Feb. 25 trade deadline, he made sure that wouldn’t be a lingering issue once the two were united in the same dressing room. Marchand even called Johansson to talk things over and offer an apology.
“We’ve done our background in terms of where the player’s at and the skillsets he brings, and we felt comfortable that he would be able to handle that coming into a room,” Sweeney told reporters after the trade. “And that was the first thing he said is how excited he is to join our club.”
His enthusiasm is only growing as the dream of winning a championship draws closer.
Johansson was part of four Washington Capitals teams that were eliminated in the second round earlier in his career and watched his old buddies lift the Stanley Cup last spring. A few have reached out with texts of support during this Bruins run.
It’s turned out to be an ideal fit for both the player and team — one of the rare rental situations where everything falls into place while there are still games left to be played.
“I feel like I’ve been comfortable pretty much the whole time,” said Johansson. “But injuries and illness and stuff, it’s just never fun. It puts a bit of a stop to it.
“The support you get from the rest of the guys in here, it’s unbelievable. That’s made it a lot easier.”