NEW YORK – There have been a handful times over the last few years when injuries to the Bruins forwards have called for Gregory Campbell or Daniel Paille to move up into an expanded role as a top-nine forward.
But Claude Julien has always slotted Campbell or Paille back down on the fourth line with Shawn Thornton as soon as things stabilize for the Black and Gold, and there’s a reason for that.
The Bruins coach is a big believer in chemistry and comfort among linemates, and he knows he’s got a good thing going with his group of energy players on the fourth line.
Paille is the speedy winger capable of earning himself quality offensive chances with equal parts skating speed and grit, and Campbell is the solid three-zone center holding it all together. Both are extraordinary penalty killers, and bring plenty to the table as individual players.
When teamed with Thornton, the enforcer, they turn into a hard-hitting unit willing to do anything to put the puck into the opponent’s net, and keep it out of the back of their own, no matter who they’re up against.
Just don’t ever try to get a word of braggadocio out of those three forwards.
“We’re just trying to get back out there [for another shift], so we’re going to give it our all every time we’re out there,” Thornton said. “I’ve said it a million times. I’m very fortunate to be able to play with those other two guys.”
Julien remembers how Paille, Campbell and Thornton gave the Bruins their energy, swagger and confidence during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals when they produced dominant shift after dominant shift.
That memory keeps him from ever messing with something that’s been truly successful for the Black and Gold.
“It’s about chemistry. That’s why I don’t move my lines around as much. It’s because I believe in chemistry. That’s just the way I am. A lot of times patience and chemistry will offer you a lot,” Julien said. “Sometimes it doesn’t, but on many of the right occasions it does. For three years those three guys have learned about their strengths, and where to be in certain situations.
“Even when you look at their fore-check, how they rotate through it is pretty amazing. That’s why they spend so much time in the offensive zone, because there’s a second and a third layer to keep that puck in.”
So on a night like Tuesday night’s Game 3 when the B’s “Merlot Line” provided both of the goals in a playoff victory, it adds just a little more juice to the already burgeoning confidence within the Boston room. It also eases the pressure on some of Boston’s top scorers that the other lines will have a chance to contribute offensively.
“Our guys respect each other in the room. They really do,” Julien said. “When those guys [on the fourth line] come up big for us it really ignites the dressing room. It really does.”
Critics of Julien’s hesitancy to switch up the forward lines, or his propensity to roll all four lines every night, would do well to remember moments like Game 3 when both of those traits served the Black and Gold so very well.