A chain reaction for Bruins' Paille

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A chain reaction for Bruins' Paille

WASHINGTON Dan Paille was wearing The Chain after the Bruins' 4-3 win over the Capitals Monday night, and it was long overdue for the fourth line winger whos busted his tail for weeks.

Paille scored the game-tying goal in the second period when Shawn Thornton pushed Washington into making an unforced error, and the puck landed on the stick of Gregory Campbell. Campbell fed Greg Zanon on the other side of the ice and the Bs defenseman blasted away at a shot from the left point that caused a rebound in front.

A miscommunication between Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz left Paille wide open in front of the net, and the fourth line winger shoveled a backhanded shot past Braden Holtby.

It was Paille setting the example for the rest of the Bruins about the proper way to create a net-front presence, and the correct method for crashing the net with courage and a plan for offensive attack.

Were finding our way in the last two games and were trying to keep moving forward," he said. "Most of the time theres a man on you in a man-on-man system, but I was able to get free for a good five seconds. I had all the time in the world to get that rebound, and I was fortunate to get that bounce.

Paille nearly had another goal in the first period when a long Thornton clear bounced off Holtbys pads, and created a rebound that was floating back toward the Bs fourth line. Instead of letting an onrushing Paille get a crack at the loose puck, Holtby went after it with his stick and the stick came loose, knocking the puck away from Paille. It appeared accidental, but the Bruins could have made a case for a penalty shot, which is awarded if a goalie throws his stick at the puck.

In any case, the play was part of an effort by Paille that is regularly appreciated by his fellow Merlot Line members, and something his teammates value.

We pride ourselves on being a good line, and if we can help then were going to, said Thornton.

And this time, with Paille's goal, they did help.

I was extremely happy for him," said Thornton. "Effort is never a problem for us, but being able to capitalize is always a good thing for the fourth line.

After never holding a lead over the Capitals through the first 10 periods, the Bruins now havent trailed in the playoffs since Paille stepped in front of the net for a big-time goal.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.