Merlot line under microscope after series vs. Habs

Merlot line under microscope after series vs. Habs
May 15, 2014, 10:00 pm
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BOSTON – The Bruins will begin picking up the pieces in the days and weeks ahead after the disappointing end to their 2014 season arrived at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs. Life will go on, of course, for the Black and Gold, and perhaps the bitter taste of an underachieving postseason will be exactly what the doctor ordered next season.

There will most definitely be changes as well.

There’s nothing big on the horizon when it comes to the NHL roster, but the Bruins will have decisions to make, salary cap issues to grapple with and weaknesses unearthed in the playoffs that will need to be addressed over the summer. Perhaps one of the more glaring areas that could be in for some changes is the Bruins’ fourth line, a trio that’s had an excellent run over the last three years.

Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille were difference-makers three years ago when the Bruins won the Cup, had a tough Stanley Cup hangover season and bounced back last year while almost single-handedly winning Boston’s second round series against the New York Rangers before Campbell was lost to a broken leg against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But this season was a different story for the Merlot Line. Campbell understandably took a long time to round into form from the serious leg injury, Paille was in and out of the lineup with several concussions and Thornton owned Boston’s low point of the regular season when he jumped Brooks Orpik from behind and was suspended for 15 regular season games.

So the regular season numbers were okay and the fourth line’s impact was inconsistent, but they managed to give the Bruins the forward depth they yearn for during Boston’s dominant stretch in March and April. Unfortunately that didn’t carry over into the playoffs, and the fourth line was a major stumbling block for the Bruins as they failed to bring quickness, energy or attitude against Detroit or Montreal.

The line accounted for two points in a combined 24 playoff games, and was completely outplayed by Dale Weise, Daniel Briere and Brandon Prust in the second round series against Montreal. Thornton was relegated to 7:22 per game in the postseason, and will be remembered more for squirting P.K. Subban with a water bottle from the Boston bench in Game 5 than anything he did on the ice.

Paille scored the game’s first goal in Game 2, and both Paille and Campbell logged ice time for a Bruins penalty kill that struggled mightily against Subban and the Canadiens power play throughout the series. They were completely outplayed by Montreal’s fourth line during the second round series, and factored heavily into the defeat for the Black and Gold.

Weise managed just six goals in 60 plus games during the regular season, but hit the Bruins for three goals in the seven game series, including the overtime game-winner in Game 1 and a huge first goal in Game 7. Daniel Briere also scored for the Habs in Game 7, so Montreal’s fourth line accounted for two of the three goals in the winner take all game in the series.

“You need depth to be able to get success. Since we started the playoffs, we’ve used our depth, and again [in Game 7]. Danny Briere’s line really set the tone, to get that first goal, I felt our team was well-prepared and excited about playing that game,” said Montreal coach Michel Therrien, following the Game 7 win. “But Danny Briere’s line, with [Brandon] Prust and [Dale] Weise, they picked up the first goal and it was certainly a boost of motivation and confidence. Then Danny [Briere] scored the third goal. It was a big goal for us. Danny was really productive tonight…really productive.”

Paille finished with just one point and five shots on net along with a minus-1 in the seven game series vs. Montreal, Thornton was on ice for a goal against in three of the four Boston losses to the Habs while getting fined for the water bottle incident and Campbell finished with zero points, a minus-3 and three shots on goal in the seven games against Montreal.

That is pretty much a big fat zero across the board, and raises questions about their effectiveness given their lack of impact, defensive responsibility and dearth of energy at times when the Bruins really needed a little something extra. Both Campbell and Paille are signed for one more season (a combined $2.9 million cap hit for the two of them) and the former Buffalo first round pick still brings the versatility and skating speed to the table.

But Thornton is a free agent now that the 2014 season has wrapped, and the whispers are that the Bruins may be ready to move on from the 36-year-old enforcer. Perhaps it will be Bobby Robins turn after putting in some tough years with the Providence Bruins, or the Bruins will go elsewhere looking for more speed, youth and energy out of an enforcer-type player at half of Thornton’s $1.1 million cap hit from 2013-14.

In potentially letting Thornton go, clearly the Bruins would lose No. 22’s personality, his leadership and his unique ability to bring all corners of the Boston dressing room together as a cohesive unit. But it’s clear after watching the B’s fourth line get dominated against the Canadiens that there are some roster tweaks that need to be made, and taking the Merlot Line out of the wine cellar might be one of them.