WASHINGTON — Shawn Thornton is a fixture on the Bruins’ fourth line. But when the playoffs start, the strongman is always on the bubble.
Last year against the Capitals, Thornton was a healthy scratch for the last two playoff games, replaced by Jordan Caron for Games 6 and 7.
Two years ago, Thornton didn’t play in five of the seven games against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals. Against Vancouver in the Cup Final, Thornton was a healthy scratch for the first two games.
This season, depending on injuries, opponent, and the way the Bruins are playing, Thornton could be out of the lineup once more.
“Anyone’s a possibility, right? My thought process is to play as well as I can every night and make that decision, if it’s me, as tough as possible,” Thornton said. “That’s kind of where I’ve been at the last little bit, trying to give it everything I have every game. Not only that, but to get ready for the playoffs, too.”
Thornton was in the lineup for Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Capitals, alongside usual linemates Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell. It’s a good bet Thornton will be there for Game 1 of the opening round. The Bruins always look to Game 7 against Vancouver as an example of how critical the fourth line is to their success.
The current wrinkle depends on the status of Nathan Horton. The right wing sat out his fourth straight game on Saturday because of an upper-body injury. Horton suffered the injury during a fight with Jarome Iginla on April 20. Horton has been skating, but there is no guarantee he will be ready for Game 1.
“I wouldn’t say 100 percent,” coach Claude Julien said. “But to us, right now, that’s the main goal. He should be ready for us. Those are always hard things to pinpoint. It depends on when we start and everything else. He’s skating. He’s progressing. He’s doing much better. Our goal is to certainly have him back.”
If Horton returns early in the series, he will most likely return to his spot with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. The question is where Rich Peverley, who has been Horton’s replacement the last four games, will end up.
The likelihood is that Peverley will return to the third line with Chris Kelly and Jaromir Jagr. Carl Soderberg, the current third-line left wing, would be the healthy scratch. Soderberg is still adjusting to the NHL pace and size of the rinks. Soderberg should be more comfortable after a full training camp and regular-season games.
But if the Bruins want more offense, Peverley could slide to the fourth line with Paille and Campbell. Thornton would then be the odd man out. Thornton and his fourth-line mates are making their case to stay together. In Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Washington, Thornton landed one shot and threw two hits in 11:00 of ice time. It was the most Thornton played since April 2 against Ottawa, when he played 11:02.
The line hasn’t been together as much lately. Because of injuries, Paille and Campbell have taken shifts higher up in the lineup.
But the familiarity the three have should allow them to kick right back into gear once the playoffs start.
“Even if we separated them, when they got back together, they knew exactly how to play with each other,” Julien said. “If anything, from those guys being moved up when we talk about Campbell and Paille being moved up on different lines, there’s no doubt they’ve gained some confidence from that. Where it might have been tough for us in certain areas where we had a lot of injuries and probably didn’t play our best, those guys progressed from getting those opportunities.”
Ailing Jagr sits out
Jagr did not play against Washington because of flu-like symptoms. He didn’t practice on Friday and did not travel with the team.
Jagr could play in Sunday’s regular-season finale against Ottawa if he’s not considered a risk to spread the illness.
“Doctors will decide whether it’s still something that’s contagious or not,” Julien said. “We’ll play it by ear.”
Kaspars Daugavins replaced Jagr. Daugavins hadn’t played since April 13, a healthy scratch for five straight games. He had two shots and three hits in 12:10 of ice time.
Penalty kill struggles
The Bruins allowed three power-play goals on five opportunities. The Bruins, the top-ranked killers for most of the season, are now fourth in the league (87 percent). They’ve given up nine power-play goals in their last seven games. During that stretch, they’ve killed at a paltry 71 percent rate . . . Lucic had his second straight strong game. Lucic (1-1—2) recorded four shots and two hits in 16:28 of ice time. Lucic has regained his confidence . . . Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were paired for the second straight game. They will be the likely top duo in the playoffs . . . Dougie Hamilton, Aaron Johnson, and Jay Pandolfo were the healthy scratches . . . The Bruins will not have a morning skate at TD Garden because of the Celtics-Knicks afternoon game.