For obvious reasons, the top few forward lines on NHL teams will always get most of the attention from casual hockey fans. They score a majority of the goals, get named to All-Star teams and earn the biggest contracts.
Still, to get anywhere as a team you need bottom-six forwards that are more than capable of providing energy when their more-talented teammates are floundering.
Harkening back to the Bruins’ last Stanley Cup in 2011, we all remember that particularly special fourth line in Daniel Paille, Greg Campbell, and Shawn Thornton, aka the Merlot Line, with fondness. They aren’t quite on that nickname level yet but this edition of Boston (24-14-4) appears to have a good thing going on their new fourth line with Sean Kuraly (four goals, six assists) at left wing, Noel Acciari (one goal, two assists) at center and Chris Wagner (five goals, three assists) at right wing.
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Saturday’s key 2-1 victory vs. Buffalo (22-14-6) at TD Garden put the Bruins two points ahead of the Sabres for third place in the Atlantic Division and closed the book on the regular season series (3-1 in favor of Boston).
The fourth win in a row for the black and gold was probably the best collective performance from Kuraly, Acciari and Wagner since Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy put them together in recent weeks. Wagner scored a goal 20 seconds into the game that was called off for goaltender interference on Kuraly, but they responded with another Wagner tally halfway through the first period that gave Boston a 1-0 lead.
Acciari took the puck away from Buffalo in their own defensive zone and poked it ahead to Wagner, who fired a nice shot by goaltender Linus Ullmark. To illustrate Cassidy’s growing trust in them, they all played at least 14:26 — more than everyone on Boston’s struggling third line (Danton Heinen, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Ryan Donato).
“I think we talked a little bit about trying to establish a little more consistency in the second half [of the season] and maybe that’s a line that starts games at home [like they did on Saturday] to establish puck possession early and tilt the territorial advantage,” noted Cassidy. “A lot of times it’s [Patrice] Bergeron’s line that gets the start but maybe that’s something we can look at going forward and they certainly earned their keep tonight.”
After that game, when asked about their chemistry, Wagner talked about how they are all close off the ice, which makes sense since they seem to have so much in common. They are all Americans in their mid-to-late 20s that played college hockey (Kuraly at Miami Ohio, Acciari at Providence, and Wagner at Colgate) before turning pro. They are smart and as they’ve shown lately — Kuraly had back-to-back game-winning goals at Buffalo and then vs. Chicago in the Winter Classic — they can even get hot from time to time.
With winter in full effect, these are the types of players that Bruins fans naturally gravitate towards since they seem more like regular guys compared to some of the superhumans around the league.
Boston goes for its fifth straight win on Tuesday (7, NESN) as they host Minnesota (20-17-3) with Tuukka Rask (11-8-2) getting the start and bidding for his fourth win in a row.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate