SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Kevin Allen breaks down three players who we should be paying attention to in the NHL’s Conference Finals.
BOSTON (AP) — There’s a dust-up in the corner, the referee raises his arm to signal a penalty, and Brad Marchand is right in the middle of it.
Only this time, he’s trying to keep the peace.
The face-licking, stick-stomping Bruins forward moved quickly to pull rookie Connor Clifton away before he could retaliate for an illegal hit by Carolina’s Jordan Staal. Instead of matching minors, Boston wound up with a power play that led to the tying goal, and the Bruins went on to beat the Hurricanes 5-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
“He’s turning over a new leaf, eh?” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said with a smile after the Bruins moved three wins from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013.
A 5-foot-9 gadfly nicknamed “The Little Ball of Hate,” Marchand is a two-time All-Star who helped Boston lift the Cup as a rookie in 2011 and scored 100 points this season for the first time. He leads all players with 15…