BOSTON, MA – Prior to Game Five, Shawn Thornton was caught by surprise when he was informed by a reporter that B’s Head Coach Claude Julien had said a few days prior that because the Merlot Line is so important to the Bruins, he didn’t think it was worth it to have them engaged in fights with the Rangers’ fourth line.
“Did he say that? I honestly try not to pay attention to what's going on outside of the locker room. I try to get away from it, but that's nice,” said Thornton. “Definitely [it's a compliment]. I wasn't aware, so this is kind of shocking. We've been contributing so far in these playoffs. We've been able to continue to contribute.
“With that being said, if people are taking liberties or trying to take advantage of any of the guys, it doesn't mean those things are still sewn onto our sleeves.”
In the Bruins 3-1, series-clinching victory over the Rangers on Saturday night, the ‘fourth line’ delivered once again. Gregory Campbell potted a pair of goals, Daniel Paille assisted on one of the tallies, and Thornton, who did decide to drop the gloves with Derek Dorsett in the first period, came a few inches away from a goal late in the third that would’ve secured himself a Gordie Howe hat trick.
The line’s performance was further evidence that Julien’s philosophy of rolling four lines is, no doubt, a major key to the Bruins’ success and a big reason why they are moving on to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It makes a coach look good, there’s no doubt about that,” said Julien of the Merlot Line’s play. “They reward us with the kind of play they did tonight – with goals. We’re known as a team that rolls four lines. I’m not a coach that rolls four lines because I want to roll four lines; I roll four lines because I know I’ve got the depth to roll four lines. If I was coaching a team that didn’t have four lines, then I would, no doubt, shorten my bench.
“[B’s General Manager] Peter [Chiarelli] and our organization has allowed us to have the players that give us the opportunity to go with four lines. They were rewarding us with big goals. There’s no doubt that line played a big role in this series. We’re moving on and they certainly deserve a lot of credit for that.”
Campbell got the line going when he gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 13:41 of the second period. Paille picked off two passes from the Rangers’ Roman Hamrlik through the neutral zone and eventually got control of the puck and carried it into the New York end. Paille then threw a pass towards Thornton at the top of the crease. The puck bounced off Thornton and right to Campbell, who then beat Henrik Lundqvist far side.
“The play started with Piesy having the poise to make a good play in the neutral zone and hold onto that puck,” said Campbell. “He really used his speed and his strength to carry it in, not just chip it in, but to carry it in and realize that Thorty was driving and trying to make a play, and I just caught the garbage there.”
The mammoth shift by Paille came moments after he struggled during the Rangers’ power play. Paille, one of the Bruins’ best penalty killers, lost an edge, leaving Dan Girardi wide open at the right point. Girardi then let a slapper fly that beat Tuukka Rask for New York’s only goal.
“It’s a play that I do time and time again and most of the time I stand up, but unfortunately I just fell,” said Paille of the penalty kill stumble. “It gave them an opportunity with a wide open shot. I felt responsible for them, so I somehow wanted to make it up and continue to play my game and not try to show any frustration with it.”
Throughout the New York series, the line of Campbell, Paille, and Thornton caused the Rangers fits. They combined for four goals and six assists, and even forced Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella to answer by switching up his own fourth line after Game Two. Tortorella inserted Kris Newbury and Michael Haley into the lineup before Game Three, and made Brad Richards and Arron Asham healthy scratches.
Campbell, who also scored an empty-netter by diving at the puck to push it towards the goal, said the trio tries to make an impact every game, whether it is chipping in a goal or providing the Bruins with energy.
“We just try our best and try to do the things that we can and try to be responsible, bring energy and really work together and try to make a difference every game,” Campbell explained. “Some games the way we contribute is different than the way we contributed tonight. Not every game we’re going to put the puck in the net, but it has to be in some fashion; we have to contribute as a line.
“Against a team like the Rangers, who are pretty solid, we really had to rely on our depth and we knew that we had to play a role.”