The deciding goal in the Bruins’ 3-1 Game 5 win is not destined for an eternal loop at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Rangers defenseman Roman Hamrlik committed two cough-ups. Daniel Paille sent a cross-ice pass that clinked off Shawn Thornton’s stick. Before Gregory Campbell even saw his shot go in, bruiser Micheal Haley body-slammed him to the ice. It was no Mario Lemieux dangling through the population of greater Pittsburgh.
But its beauty was in its ugliness.
The relentless Paille stepped in front of both Hamrlik giveaways in the neutral zone. Paille and Thornton drove to the net to draw in the Rangers. Campbell knew that by treading into the forbidden net-front area, he would suffer the required punishment the Rangers were sure to deliver. Campbell shrugged off the anticipated pounding to bury the puck before Haley buried him.
It is the type of grunt work that defines the Bruins’ fourth line.
So it was fitting that the three plumbers connected on the game-winning goal. And it was just as appropriate that of all the players Claude Julien could tab for last-minute, six-on-five, empty-net duty, the Bruins coach selected Campbell. The fourth-liner responded by capping the victory and the five-game series win by backhanding the puck into an empty net.
“That line makes a coach look good,” Julien said. “There’s no doubt about that. They reward us with the kind of play they had tonight.”
The Bruins were not supposed to dismiss the Rangers in five games. The Bruins were coming off a draining, high-wire, seven-game dogfight against a relentless Toronto club. Three of their regular defensemen, including their No. 2 blue liner, were not available for the first four games. The straight-line Rangers, led by smashmouth captain Ryan Callahan, were straining at the leash to let their fangs sink into young meat.
But the Bruins’ depth — and the Rangers’ lack of it — led to the second-round win and the Eastern Conference final showdown against Pittsburgh. Depth will be critical to match up with a team loaded for the Cup. The predatory Penguins will send waves of talent, speed, skill, and ferocity at the Bruins, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang leading the march.
“They’re almost like the Miami Heat of the NHL with all the star power that they’ve got,” Milan Lucic said. “Probably the two best players in the world. A 40-goal scorer. A former 50-goal scorer and a future Hall of Famer. A Norris Trophy candidate on their team. They definitely have a lot of weapons. Saying all that, I think what makes them successful is they play real well as a team.”
On the back end, the Bruins asked rookies Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, and Dougie Hamilton to assume some heavy lifting amid the veterans’ absence. They answered.
For the first four games, Bartkowski was the No. 3 defenseman. Krug punched in four goals in five games. Hamilton ceded his lineup spot in Game 5 when Dennis Seidenberg was declared fit to play. While Hamilton didn’t play well defensively in Game 4, the 19-year-old logged important minutes in the first three games while moving the puck efficiently, especially on the power play.
“I think that’s probably the biggest story line of the series: how they were able to step up,” Lucic said. “You see Kruger stepping up with four goals in a series. That’s huge, and having to play against two huge guys like [Brian] Boyle and [Taylor] Pyatt and being able to shut them down. Also, Bartkowski stepping up with Johnny [Boychuk] playing against that Callahan line, which has been successful all year.”
Campbell scored two goals in Game 5. Paille recorded a goal and an assist in Game 3, including the winning strike. Thornton had two assists in Game 3 and another helper in Game 5.
The Bruins’ fourth-liners were difference-makers. They prompted Rangers coach John Tortorella to blow up his zero-identity fourth line for Games 4 and 5. Brad Richards and Arron Asham were out. Haley and Kris Newbury were in. Chris Kreider was up to the first line. Derek Dorsett was down to the fourth.
The Bruins’ hard hats were so efficient that they became targets of New York’s agitation. Dorsett tried to intimidate Paille. Thornton didn’t like that. So at 6:49 of the first, Thornton shed the mitts and tangled with Dorsett. Thornton sent a message: Don’t mess with my left wing.
“I thought he was trying to take liberties with my linemate,” Thornton explained. “I wasn’t OK with that.”
The Bruins demand regular shifts from their fourth line. The Bruins’ system requires its forwards to skate hard in all three zones. They must backcheck to steer puck carriers toward their defensemen. They have to turn and blitz through center ice to pick up speed. Once in the attacking zone, they’re told to cycle down low and be heavy on the puck. All that work must be spread among 12 forwards.
At the same time, the Bruins need their fourth line to be smart and skilled. General manager Peter Chiarelli has given Julien three players who could be third liners on other teams. Paille is a former first-round draft pick. Campbell played on the third line in Florida. Thornton is smart enough to assume a bigger role.
“I’m not a coach that rolls four lines because I want to roll four lines,” Julien said. “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, I’d no doubt shorten my bench. But Peter and our organization has allowed us to go with four lines. They just keep rewarding us with big goals. There’s no doubt that line played a big role in this series. We’re moving on, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.”