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Bruins’ fourth-line has done a first-rate job

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By John Powers
Globe Staff / June 9, 2011

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The one who already has his name engraved on Lord Stanley’s mug had been in street clothes for seven straight games. The other two, who answer to Piesy and Soupy, had been collecting random minutes that rarely added up to more than half a dozen.

Once a team reaches the Stanley Cup Final, the bench shortens and the fourth-liners usually are odd men out. But since the Bruins returned to Causeway Street and Shawn Thornton was back in uniform, he, Daniel Paille, and Gregory Campbell have been very much full partners in the hurly-burly. In last night’s 4-0 thumping of Vancouver, that trio played a combined 43 minutes 17 seconds with Paille landing four shots, Campbell blocking a couple, and Thornton delivering four hits.

And Paille and Campbell helped Boston’s parsimonious penalty killers blank the Canucks on all six of their power plays. “They’re doing a great job right now,’’ testified Brad Marchand. “They’re just flying around, blocking shots, taking time and space away, and willing to sacrifice their bodies.’’

Paille, who says his mission is “to go out there and create as much havoc as possible,’’ logged 15:43 after working for 14:59 in Game 3, which was more than he’d played in the previous three games combined. Campbell, who hadn’t played more than 10 minutes in any game since the series opener against Tampa Bay, now has been on the ice for 15:41 and 18:05. And Thornton, who totaled 5:50 in his Monday return, had 9:29 last night.

Thornton is the activator, the energizer, the man who knows what it takes to win a championship, having done it with Anaheim in 2007. “He’s won a Cup before,’’ said Mark Recchi, who earned two with Pittsburgh and Carolina. “He knows what it takes.’’

When coach Claude Julien plugged Thornton back in to give his mates some snap, crackle, and pop, it was as though they’d never been apart. “I’ve played with Soupy for one hundred and whatever games, so we’re very familiar with each other,’’ Thornton said. “After [Marchand] got his promotion because we made him look so good, Piesy came in, so we played together for the last 50 or 60 games. We’re able to read off each other. It’s fairly straight-line, simple hockey.’’

The trio had an immediate impact in the 8-1 Game 3 victory that the Bruins simply had to have. Thornton drew the hooking penalty on Canucks winger Jeff Tambellini that set up the second goal. “I thought I was going to get a penalty shot,’’ he said. “I was kind of hoping I could use my moves.’’ And Paille notched the fifth score shorthanded that touched off the third-period landslide that buried the Canucks.

Such are the fantasies of a fourth-liner. Thornton, Paille, and Campbell strike sparks when they’re placed in proximity. “They play great together, creating a lot of energy,’’ said Marchand. “Even on the bench and in the room, they’re all very talkative. They keep guys up if we get down at all.’’

The Bruins were down two after two games, but Paille and his pals helped turn the arrow upward. “They stepped up and were ready to go,’’ Julien said. “Good team players, understanding their roles and ready at any time.’’

With winger Nathan Horton finished for the season after suffering a severe concussion and Julien forced to mix-and-match, the fourth line took on even more importance last night in a game that Boston needed to win in order to avoid playing an elimination game in Vancouver tomorrow.

And Paille and Campbell once again were relied upon to help stifle the Canucks’ power play, which has managed only one goal in 22 chances (4.5 percent) after cashing in at a 24.3 percent rate during the regular season. “Those guys have been really good for us,’’ said Julien. “Whenever they didn’t get an opportunity to play much as a fourth line, you could certainly rely on them heavily to help you out through the penalty kill.’’

Now, though, Thornton & Co. are getting prime-time work. Campbell logged more minutes last night than Patrice Bergeron or Milan Lucic. That’s not a misprint. And it’s not a coincidence that the Bruins are even-up and heading West. If they do win the Cup for the first time since 1972, everyone’s name will be engraved in the same size.

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.

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