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Rolling four lines important against deep Bruins team

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

If you want to beat the Boston Bruins, there’s really only one way to do it.

“We’re going to need all four lines,” said coach Todd Richards after Thursday’s practice. “Depending on how I use the lines, because I still may switch lines around going into the game, but however we start the game we’re going to need four lines.”

The Bruins have been a prototype in a copycat league, and their ability to roll four lines every night for the past five years is a major reason they won a Stanley Cup in 2010 and why every team now looks to build like the Bruins and the Kings.

The Bruins remain one of the few teams in the league that retains its tag as a physically imposing group. They can score up and down the lineup, and they will attack up and down the lineup. It’s a level of depth that the Blue Jackets will need to match early.

To find that level of grit, Richards will make several lineup changes. Matt Calvert and Jack Skille return to the lineup with Alexander Wennberg, while Adam Cracknell will get an opportunity at center between Brian Gibbons and Jared Boll.

That new-look fourth line will need to be a contributor right away.

“Boston’s always been a four-line team. When they won the Cup, their fourth line was a big part of that,” said Cracknell, who takes the fourth line center role now that Michael Chaput has been assigned to Springfield. “We need to go out and execute, but the most important thing is not turning pucks over. Once we get the puck in deep and establish a forecheck, I think we’ve got guys on our line that can score some goals.”

Richards would love a scoring spark from his fourth line, which still has not scored a goal this season. Gibbons, Boll, and Cracknell have combined for five assists on the season. But while contributing on the score sheet would be a bonus for the Jackets’ bottom six, it will be just as important that they are able to generate a forecheck and control possession time against a banged-up Bruins defense that is missing Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid.

That grinding, clock-killing game is something the Bruins’ fourth line has always done well, and what often leads to offense.

“We like to establish our forecheck early and get ourselves into the game, get our fans into the game, and get some energy in the building. It doesn’t matter who’s in or out,” said Richards. “Obviously those guys out will affect their team a little bit because they're great players. But we still have to come in with the same mentality regardless of who’s in the lineup.”

Richards has said at times during the season that he was not happy with the energy level of his bottom six. The real question will be whether or not Cracknell can adjust to a new role at center and if Gibbons can add a spark to the offense on a lower line. 

The biggest adjustment may be in the face-off circle, something that Cracknell and Wennberg worked on after the morning skate today. Wennberg has been hot and cold for stretches during the season, while Cracknell has had limited opportunities. Wennberg has won 39.7 percent of his draws and Cracknell 38.2 percent.

“It’s a role I have to adjust to right away,” said Cracknell. “I’ve been playing well the last few games with (Anisimov) and Wennberg. I’ve played center before, it’s just about knowing my role. We’ve got some speed and we’ve got some size, and I think we can use that to our advantage.”

Chasing the puck is exactly what the Jackets cannot afford to do against these Bruins, and a fourth line that out-works the other can make a difference. 

“Personally I’m here to try to stay in the lineup," Cracknell said. "We all want to play and we know there’s always lineup changes, so I don’t want to give them any reason to take me out. Playing center is a big responsibility, and I have to take advantage of that opportunity. You want to earn trust from the organization and the coaching staff, and especially your teammates.”

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