By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Its a good thing Shawn Thornton assembled the Bs energy line back together, and decided to carry his indomitable grit, heart and spirit to the rink rather than complain about the 40-stitch cut over his right eye.
For some, the close brush with possibly losing an eye or suffering a brutal scar would at least keep them out until the playoffs starts. But not Thornton. He and his line used Wednesday's game against the Islanders as a celebration that their hard-working trio was back together, and one of the best fourth lines in the NHL this season.
That was good for the Bs, as there werent many people in Black and Gold uniforms geared up for a nights work with so many things locked in for the playoffs with only two games to go. The top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton was on cruise control after a strong scoring chance on their very first shift of the game, and managed only a single shot on net, from Krejci, before the Czech Republic center was replaced on Bostons top line by the gritty, gutty Chris Kelly. "Lucic and Hortonended up with no shots on net. So I think we expect a little bit more and, you know, so we madea change there," said Claude Julien. "Maybe putting a guy that was going to be a more straightforward guy might have helped and David Krejci playing with some other wingers just to kind of spark things up. So Im not blaming one or the other; I think that whole line was flat tonight. So we had to split them up."
Despite a group of the players that came to the TD Garden seemingly afraid of getting their noses dirty or risking injury only two games away from the postseason, the Bruins still had just enough for a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders at TD Garden.
Coach Claude Julien was under no illusions about what hed watched for 60 minutes against one of the worst teams in the NHL a club that has long since been eliminated from playoff competition and really had little to play for aside from next season's employment.
Our best players certainly didnt make a difference, and who made a difference was our fourth line," said Julien. The Gregory Campbell line was very good for us tonight and the goaltender made some good saves for us. But its one of those games where you try and motivate your team to play hard and play well and I think theres a challenge there.
You know, you can say what you want and you can preach what you want, but there are a lot of players I think that are looking forward to the postseason. So those are the challenges that we have at this time of year.
It was a good rebound victory for the Bruins coming off the Rangers meltdown, and kept Boston in position to potentially hop over the Philadelphia Flyers for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. But there was sloppiness, softness and laziness all over the ice when things need to be tightened up for the Stanley Cup run.
I mean, there were some lapses," said Thornton. "But we just have to play our game and not worry who were playing against. When were playing our style of game, were a really, really good team.
When we get away from that, weve seen it through the years what happens there. As long as we continue to play our game plan, well be a pretty good team.
But Bostons top two lines arrived on Causeway Street with a stack full of envelopes and stamps ready to mail in their performance. It was instead left up to an energized fourth line to produce goals by Thornton (in the final second of the first period) and Campbell (through Rick DiPietros pads in the second period) that gave Boston its 101st point of the season.
Ridiculously talented Isles rookie Michael Grabner powered the New York attack with a pair of goals that made it a tight one-goal game, but fellow fourth-line inspiration Daniel Paille helped preserve the win with a gutsy blocked shot in the closing minutes of the game.
With playoff roster spots under competition, it was only appropriate the Bs fourth line came out firing with an overpowering shift midway through the first period. Some interior passing freed up both Paille and Thornton for big shots off the pass in the Isles end of the ice, but DiPietro stumbled, blocked, absorbed and stuffed his way to 14 saves in the first 20 minutes.
But the Bs energy line wasnt deterred, despite DiPietros ability to make a solid body save on Paille in the final five minutes of the period.
Finally, shots by Campbell and Paille softened things, and Thornton charged the net with a refusal for anything less than a goal. It finally came with one-tenth of a second left in the first period.After Tomas Kaberle and Dennis Seidenberg both made good efforts to keep the puck in offensively, Paille knocked around Dylan Reese in front of the net and Thornton crashed the front to pop the loose puck past DiPietro.
That goal came from a player hell-bent on doing whats best for his team, and it also served as notice that Thornton, Campbell and Paille were once again much more than a trio of fourth-line plumbers some feel are unworthy of ice time and significant shifts in the playoffs. The 10 goals for Thornton this season was something even the good-humored enforcer couldn't play down after the game.
Expect to see more of the same over the next days from Boston's heart and soul playersas the B's await the beginning of the playoffs April 14.
We just try to keep it simple and provide energy for the team. Our job is not very complicated, said Thornton. We have to work hard, we have to be first on every puck and create chances and be strong defensively.
I felt like there was a little chemistry with us tonight and we were fortunate enough to be able to put goals in."Hopefully their teammates will decide to snap out of it and join them.