Brad Marchand walks emotion line

BOSTON -- The last thing a player wants to do at this time of the NHL season is give an opponent any kind of unnecessary motivation.

Thankfully for the Boston Bruins and Brad Marchand, there's only an outside chance the Toronto Maple Leafs will earn a playoff berth after the Boston forward pulled a big no-no when it comes to taunting the other team.

The Bruins gained only one point and could not clinch the Northeast Division title with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs on Thursday night at TD Garden, and it could have been Marchand's gesture after the second period that gave Toronto a little more motivation.

With the Bruins leading 3-2 after the second period, Marchand skated by the Toronto bench and mimicked a golf swing, meaning its season is almost over and that's what the Maple Leafs players will be doing in a couple of weeks.

The Bruins' rookie forward caught a tongue lashing from coach Claude Julien.

"It was a little immature of me," Marchand said. "I shouldn't have done that. I got a little bit of an earful, but it won't happen again."

Marchand claimed that he was a little rattled after the Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel punched him in the mouth. As Marchand skated by the bench he had words with the Toronto players when he responded with his gesture.

"It's just one of those things," explained Julien. "He's been a good player for us. His emotions sometimes can be a positive, but sometimes you don't want to cross the line, and you certainly don't like that when that happens. It's a learning process."

Marchand has been a spark plug for the Bruins all season because he plays with that rat-like mentality, similar to former Bruin Ken Linseman. Marchand has the ability to get under the opposition's skin, and it's something he takes pride in. Sometimes, however, it can have a negative effect.

"It's a big part [of my game] and kind of gets me emotionally involved and brings a different element," Marchand said of his chippy play. "But at the same time, you don't want to cross the line. I've been doing that a little bit lately and it can go either way, so you have to make sure to walk that line."

Marchand was suspended for two games by the league earlier this month for an elbow to the head of the Blue Jackets' R.J. Umberger on March 15 at Columbus. Since his return to the lineup, Marchand has two goals and three assists for five points in his past six games. He is aware there's that fine line and it's easy to see how he agitates the opposition.

"You don't want to be a dirty player," Marchand said. "You want to find a way to draw penalties and get your team on the power play. You try to be aware of it, but there are times when your emotions get the best of you. That's part of the game."

Teammate Andrew Ference, who isn't afraid to speak his mind, said he didn't see Marchand's gesture, but did hear Julien's response.

"I heard the earful, but I didn't see what he did," Ference said.

When told of Marchand's mock golf swing, it took the veteran defenseman a second to get it.

"What does that even mean? Oh! I get it. Sorry, I'm really slow," he said with a laugh. "I don't chirp. I'm the last guy to say anything on the ice. Certain guys play with a certain edge and do what they do. I would be in a lot of trouble if I tried verbal sparring with some people. I leave that to guys who like to do it. I'm neutral on the issue."

On the positive side, Marchand's grittiness provided a major spark for the Bruins when he scored a short-handed goal (his fifth shorty of the season) to tie the game at 1-1 at 2:09 of the second period.

But the Maple Leafs erased a pair of one-goal deficits and eventually won in the shootout.

The Bruins have already clinched a playoff spot but weren't able to earn the necessary two points against the Maple Leafs to clinch the Northeast Division title.

"We've clinched a playoff spot, but we want to continue to climb in the standings, build and make sure we're ready for the playoffs," Marchand said. "It's our job to be focused and ready every night. It doesn't matter who we are playing, we have to bring the same intensity and game level."

That includes keeping emotions in check after the whistle, too.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.