NEW YORK -- The Game 3 win over the New York Rangers is exactly why the Bruins fourth line gets regular shifts under Claude Julien whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs. The third-period comeback against the Rangers is also further proof that Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell are still the undisputed and reigning best fourth line in hockey.
The aptly named “Merlot Line” was responsible for both third-period goals that powered the Bruins to a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden and a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. In the last two games, fourth-liners Campbell and Paille were the two players wearing the Bruins Army Ranger jacket postgame, awarded to the player that contributed most to that night’s playoff win.
“[The fourth line] did the same thing in the Stanley Cup Finals a couple of years ago,” said Johnny Boychuk. “They did the right things, they got to the net, they battled and good things happened for them.”
The Bruins managed to accomplish all of this despite Henrik Lundqvist playing his best game of the series.
Plus, they won despite receiving exactly zero power plays over the course of the night. Even when Ryan Callahan ripped open Zdeno Chara's forehead with a high stick, nothing was called. Rather than getting a four minute power play to work with, the Bruins lost the PP battle and watched as the Rangers got their 10th and 11th straight power plays on MSG ice dating back to Game 4 of the Washington series.
It felt like it wasn’t going to be Boston’s night when the Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the second period even though the Bruins out-shot New York by a 14-5 margin.
But that all changed when Boston’s energy line rolled up their sleeves, and started crowding King Henrik around the net.
The final straw that broke New York's back arrived with less than four minutes to go in the game, and with the fourth line controlling possession in the offensive zone.
Campbell and Thornton both won battles down low and in the corners against Michael Del Zotto and Steve Eminger, and the Bruins enforcer thought he had the game-winner when his shot hit Lundqvist and popped straight up in the air. The puck landed on the goal line behind the Rangers netminder, but didn’t cross over into game-winning territory before bouncing away from the net. Thornton raised his arms in celebration thinking he had supplied the game-winner, and for a split second nearly everybody on the ice hesitated thinking a goal had already been scored.
But Paille never relaxed or eased up when it appeared his fellow fourth-line winger had the winning score, and instead attacked the near post while slamming the puck past Lundqvist for the winner.
“I saw it from the corner, and I don’t know how that [Thornton shot] didn’t go in. I saw it go straight up in the air, and then it bounced away from the net when it came back down,” said Paille. “But luckily we got the right bounce. I just kept going, and put my stick on it.
“I’m just glad I didn’t stop in the corner and start celebrating like [Thornton]. But I guess he had good reason to be celebrating in the end.”
The first B’s third-period goal was equally important, and credited to Johnny Boychuk on a wrist shot from the right point with Thornton and Campbell screening in front of the New York net. Somehow, Boychuk’s shot didn’t hit Thornton as it whistled by. But Thornton did the job of distracting King Henrik, and tying the game in the third period to set up Paille’s heroics 13 minutes later in the period.
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the fourth line is again proving to be the difference in a Boston series against the Rangers. After all, Thornton, Paille and Campbell were big reasons the Bruins were able to squeak by Toronto in the first round of the postseason, and the fourth line was one of Boston’s best over the last few weeks of the regular season while other forward groups wilted under the heavy schedule.
Campbell points to the consistent minutes and regular shifts awarded to their line by Julien as one of the main reasons why they were able to remain effective when it mattered most in the playoffs.
“This is just a great team here. We know our role here, we accept it and I think that’s what makes us thrive,” said Gregory Campbell, who finished with an assist, a plus-2 and four hits in 11:45 of ice time. “It definitely helps to be more involved in the game. That creates more confidence when the coach has the confidence to roll us, and play us against other team’s top lines.
“The more you play, the more confidence you gain, and things kind of snowballed from there. We’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to keep playing and produce. We always want it to be the game where we’re the difference. We’re so close as teams that there’s always going to be a player, or a line that makes the difference in the game.”
Some of the numbers are amazing to consider when browsing through the fourth line: Paille has more goals (2) and as many points (4) as Jaromir Jagr in 10 playoff games for the Bruins this spring, and the fourth line has produced three goals during the postseason compared to one measly score for the embattled third line.
Thornton has more points (2) than Tyler Seguin during the postseason, and the fourth line is a combined plus-9 while doing a marvelous job of keeping the puck out of the back of their net.
Those numbers all scream out “difference-maker.”
“If we don’t try to win every puck battle, then we won’t get back out there, so it’s a bit of necessity, I suppose,” said Thornton, describing the perfect mentality for the playoffs. “In the first period we weren’t that great, but in the second and third periods we did a good job of putting pucks where we could get at them.
“We did a good job of managing the puck when we had it, and waiting for opportunities to open up for us. We didn’t force pucks and then lose possession of them. When we’re going, it really makes life easier for all of us. A lot of it is chemistry with us, and a lot of it is that I’m playing with two guys who would be second or third liners on a lot of other teams.”
But the Bruins aren’t “a lot of other teams.”
Instead they’re a Stanley Cup-caliber team with a fourth line that’s a certifiable weapon against other playoff clubs that aren’t as deep at the forward position. That fourth line depth helped them win a Cup two years ago, and it’s the single biggest reason why the Bruins enter Thursday night with a chance to snuff out the New York Rangers in the kind of four-game playoff sweep that simply doesn't happen that often these days.