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Thornton believes Lightning have Cup-caliber depth

by Evan Sporer /

NEW YORK -- When forward Shawn Thornton and the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, they did so rolling four lines.

Thornton was a fixture on the Bruins' fourth line, nicknamed the "Merlot Line" for the jersey color its players wore during practice. Thornton, with Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, helped the Bruins' top forwards play fewer minutes, and contributed offensively during Boston's Cup run.

Forward depth is key to any deep playoff run, and it's something Thornton, who played for the Florida Panthers this season and has been working as an analyst for NBC Sports Group during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, said he sees in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Throughout the last five, six, seven years, teams that have had depth that can play their third and fourth line an extra couple of minutes and take the pressure off the top two lines, and can contribute, those are the teams that have had a lot of success," Thornton said. "Tampa Bay is just another team that's showing that."

When the Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup, coach Claude Julien didn't have to lean as much on his top-six forwards.

"Our top line of [Milan Lucic], [Nathan Horton], and [David Krejci], those are big, heavy, physical forwards," Thornton said. "I think they would even tell you when they were playing 18 minutes instead of 21, they were probably a little more effective. So if we could contribute with 8-10 minutes instead of 3-5 minutes, we kept the workload off a little bit."

Thornton is also familiar with the team Tampa Bay currently leads 3-1 in its Eastern Conference Second Round series, the Montreal Canadiens. Thornton has played many games at Bell Centre as a visitor in what's considered one of the toughest road arenas in the NHL.

"It's awesome. The energy in the lead-up to the anthem is unlike anything else in the NHL," Thornton said. "I'm sure it's different for everyone. For me, I try to embrace it and enjoy it. I think that's why you're playing, and even if you're on the visiting team there's no reason that can't amp you up. It's pretty cool."

Thornton said he voted for Canadiens goalie Carey Price for the Ted Lindsay Award, given annually to the player judged most outstanding in the League as voted on by the NHL Players' Association.

"When he's on, he's arguably the best," Thornton said. "He was very solid and consistent this year."

From playing against Price to playing with Tuukka Rask and Roberto Luongo, Thornton has seen the effects of playing in front of a great goalie.

"It probably gives you more confidence," Thornton said. "You can just play your game; you're not worried about what's going to happen if the puck enters your zone.

"The goalie can be a calming influence, and all three of those guys do that for their team."

As the Canadiens attempt to flip the script and come back from a 3-0 deficit, one team that appears to have flipped the switch is the Chicago Blackhawks. After sweeping the Minnesota Wild in their Western Conference Second Round series Thursday, the Blackhawks will play in their third consecutive Western Conference Final, and fifth in the past seven seasons.

That kind of postseason experience allows teams to find another gear, according to Thornton.

"When you go that far in the playoffs consistently, during the year at some point there's going to be lags, and they have the ability to turn it up to another level when they need to," Thornton said. "They've been there before, and they know what level it needs to get to."


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