TORONTO, ON - Occasionally, there are stories surrounding the Bruins that can be easily recycled - Patrice Bergeron’s faceoff prowess could be one, for example, and Milan Lucic’s powerful, physical presence another. David Krejci’s playmaking and Tuukka Rask’s harrowing confidence between the pipes both fit into that category as well, with a host of others.
But there is one that comes up more often than all the rest - it’s the Bruins’ energy, momentum-shifting ’Merlot Line’ of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille.
Each individual on the line brings certain facets to the game - Paille’s speed rivals Seguin’s, Campbell’s puck protection shows in his relentlessness along the boards and in one-on-one battles, and Thornton may hold the toughness IQ for the Black & Gold, but - as evidenced with Monday night’s dangle in on James Reimer - his hockey IQ is pretty high, too.
They don’t always log the most minutes, and some come apart from one another - with Thornton logging 6:28 in ice-time in Monday’s 5-2 win over the Leafs, Paille logging 10:07 and Campbell with 13:26; the latter two teaming up on the penalty kill, in addition to their five-on-five shifts as a line.
But it’s their collective attitude that defines the trio, who have arguably redefined year after year - at least on the Bruins - the roll of the "fourth line."
"That’s what they do, they give us some momentum and they’re good at it, just to go and get it, keep things simple and make the right plays," said Patrice Bergeron, on the line’s ability to generate the B’s first real sustained pressure of their third period Monday night, when they were nursing a 4-2 lead over the Leafs in Game 3.
"It was late in the game, too. That’s what you need to make sure you sustain pressure in order to avoid spending as much time in your zone and getting scored against. It was a great play by them."
"For us, we just tried to change the momentum as quick as we could," said Paille, who not only complemented his linemates, but also generated his own chance earlier in the game, stripping Phil Kessel of the puck and scoring on a shorthanded breakaway. "We didn’t get too many shifts out there as a line, but when we did, Thorty did a great job and Soupy as well."
The trio also have something else in common - they’ve gone most of their careers flying "under the radar."
"I think he’s underrated, there’s no doubt about that," said B’s Head Coach Claude Julien, the day after Paille’s nifty play to give himself a shorty. "Why is he so good? Because he’s underrated."
"People are forgetting this is a first-round pick. Like many of them, he had the offensive numbers to show for it in junior hockey, but then you get to the NHL and you get molded into top defensive players."
"He’s been really good for us, reliable, I’ve been able to move him up in the lineup when need be and put him on some top lines and he’s served that well. He’s been a real good addition to that line since he’s come in, provided us with some speed on the fourth line, provided us with some scoring and obviously with some good penalty killing."
Ah, ’reliable,’ another word to describe this trio well. When injuries forced line juggling through the months of March and April after a steady start to the season, it was Paille and Campbell who moved up the ranks, filling in - rather seamlessly - on the top lines. Thornton jokingly referred to his centerman as "Second Line Soupy" as a result, when they were parted for a period of time. The scoring punch isn’t necessarily there, but the reliability is.
Campbell played in all 48 regular season games for the B’s, putting up 13 points (4-9), only three behind last season’s 78-game total. Paille, meanwhile, matched a career season-high in goals on the Bruins, finding the back of the net 10 times in the shortened season.
"It’s about confidence and sometimes it’s confidence from within, sometimes the coaching staff has to give him some confidence," said Julien. "Right now, I think he’s got confidence in himself and he’s got confidence from us."
The confidence for Paille has rolled over into the postseason, and he knows well what kind of impact his line, and the B’s ability to stream four lines, has on their potential for success.
"I think our team is built that way that for when the playoffs come," Paille had said back on March 14, months away from the postseason.
"So I know, for us, it’s going to be big to help produce and play some minutes for the team."
The other Bruins in the dressing room know it, too.
"That’s what we need, we need our four lines going hard and obviously our third and fourth line are very good," Brad Marchand told media on Tuesday afternoon, prior to Game 4.
"They’ve been big for us all season, all playoffs. We need that, you saw that in our Cup run a couple years ago, they were huge, and very instrumental in that win. We need them to continue the way they are, and it definitely makes them tough to play against for the other team."
"Tough" is a word that easily defines Thornton, and the Boston Bruins alike. But not many get to see his slick hands often - and I’m not talking about his quick jabs and ambidextrous ability to lead with his right, or left hand, during a fight.
Fans, media, players and coaches alike got a glimpse of No. 22’s moves when he danced in on Reimer Monday night, but just couldn’t get the elevation needed to find the back of the net.
"Well, he’s got to work on his finish," joked Coach Julien. "But, he’s been really good. He’s a good person in our dressing room, he’s a good person in our community, obviously."
"I think I said that the other day; teams need toughness at times in their lineup, he provides us with that. But I don’t believe in toughness without being able to play the game."
"He’s able to play the game and I’m able to put him out there. You see him sometimes, their line, out against the top line of the other team; that’s the confidence that we have in them and him being able to do the job."
"He’s paid his dues, and he’s got two Stanley Cup rings - one more than a lot of us."
There was a night back in March, when Thornton and Paille both scored en route to a shootout win over Ottawa, and Campbell nearly gave the trio a hat trick of a night.
"It would have been nice, eh?" Thornton had smiled. "Merlot for everyone."
A little bit of Merlot to go around would serve everyone well - and the Bruins know it.