BOSTON – The Bruins’ fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton is now in its third year together, but it still entered this season with plenty to prove. All three finished last season with a minus rating, and the trio struggled against Washington’s third and fourth lines during the Bruins’ first-round playoff loss.
That led to questions about whether or not they were still capable of playing the way they played during the Bruins’ 2010-11 Stanley Cup season, and whether or not it was wise for the Bruins to re-sign Paille and Campbell this offseason.
In the Bruins’ season-opening 3-1 win over the Rangers on Saturday, the Merlot Line (named for the color of their practice jerseys) showed that they are still perfectly capable of being one of the league’s best energy lines. They scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, they got in two fights, and they held their own on the few occasions when they matched up against the Rangers’ scoring lines.
“They did exactly what we expect them to do,” said coach Claude Julien. “They did a great job. I thought [Paille] had a real solid game, a real good asset to that line. Not only did they score the goal, they did a lot of good things. Every once in a while they were out there against some of their big lines. And if you remember a couple of years ago, they were able to handle that. They were doing the right things and I felt like they were showing that again tonight, so they got that opportunity.”
Paille gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead 8:20 into the second when he tipped a Campbell shot past Henrik Lundqvist. Paille started the rush up ice with a nice play in the defensive zone, then drove hard to the net and got body position on the New York defender. The Bruins knew they’d have trouble scoring if the reigning Vezina Trophy winner was allowed to see shots, but Paille made sure that didn’t happen on the second goal. Later in the game, Patrice Bergeron set another nice screen on the Bruins’ third goal.
“That’s exactly what we need to do to create some goals, especially against a tight team like New York,” Paille said. “You’ve got to find ways to put it in. It’s one thing that we’ve been trying to thrive with — going hard to the net — and it was nice to get a couple of goals rewarded that way.”
When the Rangers cut the lead to 2-1 four minutes after Paille’s goal, it was the Merlot Line that once again gave the Bruins an energy boost. Thornton dropped the gloves with Mike Rupp and eventually scored the takedown after a long exchange. On the very next faceoff, Campbell took on Stu Bickel in a bout in which each guy landed a few good punches.
“They did a good job doing that for us,” Paille said. “At the time, [the Rangers] had just scored a goal and were trying to get back in it. They did a great job for us. It’s tough to do that, and they don’t show any quit whenever they fight. It was huge for us.”
Paille, Campbell and Thornton don’t have to score every game, and they don’t have to get in two fights every game. But they also can’t get outworked and outmuscled like they were in last year’s playoffs. They need to bring energy and make life miserable for the line they’re going up against. If they do that consistently, like they did two years ago, they could very well reclaim the title of best energy line in the league. Saturday was a good start.