No matter which 12 forwards make up the Boston Bruins’ four lines, the team has always been at its best when Claude Julien can confidently roll out all four lines consistently.
Ask former Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault about that and he will tell you the Bruins’ fourth line—also known as the “Merlot line’—was as important to Boston’s 2011 Cup victory as any other line.
Since the decline and eventual breakup of the Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille ‘Merlot line,’ the Bruins have been searching for something, anything from their bottom three forwards.
This year, the search has yielded the same results. A revolving door of forwards combined with a lack of production forced general manager Don Sweeney to add to the team’s depth during Monday’s trade deadline.
With consistent fourth-liners Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo and Joonas Kemppainen sent down to Providence in the hours leading up to Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, Sweeney added veteran Lee Stempniak to the mix. The 33-year-old Stempniak is in no way a fourth-liner, but the move gave Julien and his staff some flexibility and the chance to move some players up and down in his lineup.
After the deadline passed, the Bruins called up forward Noel Acciari from Providence ahead of Tuesday’s contest with the Calgary Flames. Acciari centered Landon Ferraro and Brett Connolly—who has seen top-six minutes for most of the season—in Tuesday’s much-needed win over the Flames.
The trio didn’t see much ice time as the game remained close throughout the contest, but the trio did no wrong in the win. In fact, Connolly’s hard work resulted in Landon Ferraro’s first period tally just eight seconds into their first shift of the game.
“Well it didn’t take them long to get that first goal right?’’ Julien said following the victory. “They stepped on the ice and it was in the net. So I think we got two guys there with some experience, you know Landon [Ferraro] has been here now for a while and Cons [Connolly] and like I said Noels [Acciari] was very reliable so I thought that line handled themselves well tonight.’’
Acciari’s physical presence was impressive Tuesday night. His physical nature combined with Ferraro’s ability to get to the dirty areas and Connolly’s hockey sense is the recipe the Bruins are looking for on their fourth line.
With the standings as tight as they are in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins will continue to fight for their playoff lives and will need contribution from everyone in their lineup no matter how high or low their ice time may be.
“Yeah I mean that’s what you’re going to need out of the fourth line. Whether it’s going to be five minutes or 10 to 12, you just need to be able to do as much as you can with what you’re given,’’ said Ferraro who now has three points in his last five games. “When you can make a difference on a positive side it’s when you know you’re going to be generally in a good spot as a team if you can chip in. I thought we did a pretty good job with what we were given tonight.’’
Ferraro, Accari and Connolly saw just 7:26, 8:31 and 5:50 of ice time respectively Tuesday night, but as Julien stated, the trio handled themselves nicely in their limited ice time.
“Yeah I thought we made some plays, like I said with the minutes that we had. So wherever I do slot in, you just want to try and do your best and help the team win, and like I said before, I thought we were good,’’ Connolly said after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Calgary. “And you know if we do stay together, we need to be good on both ends of the rink, obviously.’’
With the roster the Bruins have, the team will continue to find ways to grind out wins, especially with the tough slate of games coming up in the next several days. The fourth line helped the Bruins grind out a win that should have been a lot easier than it was, but that’s the up and downs this young team has faced this season.
Last night was just the first look at the Bruins new and improved fourth line and the trio certainly earned themselves another look. With the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks rolling into town Thursday night, the Bruins will need all four lines clicking on all cylinders.
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