Fourth line leads Bruins to Eastern Conference Finals

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The Bruins advanced to their second Eastern Conference Finals in three seasons with a 3-1 win in Game 5 vs. Rangers on Saturday night at TD Garden. Boston will meet Pittsburgh for the right to go the Stanley Cup Finals in a series that is ripe with juicy storylines. We’ve got plenty of time to talk about that series later though, for now we’ll focus on one of the main reasons that the B’s are still alive in the playoffs: their depth, specifically on the fourth line (Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell & Shawn Thornton) that New York never could figure out ways to stop.

“We play a straightforward game,” said Campbell, who scored the game winning goal in the second period then wrapped it up with an empty-netter with 51 seconds left in regulation. “It’s not pretty but we create traffic in front of goaltenders. It’s not easy to score on Henrik Lundqvist (29 saves) but the teams that move on tend to put things behind them (like a painful Game 4 loss in overtime).”

Brad Richards-the highest paid player on the Rangers-didn’t even suit up for the last two games of the series as New York head coach John Tortorella scrambled to find ways to match Boston’s fourth line. This was all a response to Paille getting the game-winner in Game 3, which basically clinched the semifinals series. Thornton and Paille assisted on Campbell’s first goal in Game 5 and before that, Thornton fought Derek Dorsett in the first period as New York tried the ill-suited strategy to be overly-physical with the Bruins in their own building.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said “no doubt they tried to intimidate Paille, that shows what they thought of his value to us. That line makes a coach look good, we’re known as a team that rolls four lines and we do it because we have depth. (Bruins GM) Peter Chiarelli has allowed us to do that, we’re moving on and they’re a big part of that.”

In 12 playoff games, Paille (2 goals, 3 assists), Campbell (3 goals, 2 assists) and Thornton (3 assists) have combined for 13 points. That has allowed Boston to offset the poor performances of Rich Peverley (1 goal) and Chris Kelly (0 points) on the third line. Afterwards, Julien talked about how playing the fourth line even in big moments allows the other lines to be a little more fresh down the stretch, resulting in wins for Boston during puck battles along the boards and races to the puck.

“The last couple series, we’ve been fortunate to contribute like we can,” noted Paille. “It helps knowing we’ll get regular shifts.” Indeed, Thornton played 7:22 which would have been more but he was in the penalty box for seven minutes, Paille had 9:10 of ice time and Campbell had a line-high 10:44 over 18 shifts. Thornton is known as Boston’s main enforcer while Campbell and Paille are arguably their best pair of penalty killing forwards.

Most fourth lines on NHL teams are a random assortment of AHL callups and other guys that are struggling or hanging on to an NHL career. By having so much success together the last three seasons, the Bruins fourth line has forged their own identity not to mention spawned countless lovable nicknames-Merlot line, Fribble crew, energy line, etc. For the B’s to beat the Penguins, they’ll need more of the same type of contributions from the fourth line.

Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate


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