BOSTON -- When the Boston Bruins decided to retool their fourth line last summer, little did management realize how much of an impact it would have on the success of the team.
Or more accurately, lack of success.
Dismantling a portion of one of the most productive fourth lines in the league over the past few seasons was a mistake. When general manager Peter Chiarelli decided he did not want to pay Shawn Thornton as a free agent in July, the veteran forward signed a two-year deal worth $2.4 million with the Florida Panthers.
Thornton’s absence left a void on the Bruins, both in the dressing room and on the ice.
It’s evident now more than ever that the Bruins realized something was missing. While Chiarelli may have disappointed many Bruins fans at the trade deadline, he was successful delivering some much-needed grit by acquiring Maxime Talbot from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Jordan Caron.
“He fits perfectly,” Paille said of Talbot. “The last couple of games we’ve played together it just feels natural. He gives us that extra boost we’ve been missing,”
The newly formed fourth line has brought energy, stability, physicality and success the past two games. It helped the Bruins to a 5-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
Talbot has two points in his first three games with the Bruins. He assisted on Brad Marchand’s overtime goal in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, then assisted on Paille’s second goal of the game Sunday, giving Boston a 4-1 lead at 18:39 of the second period.
“It’s obvious that this fourth line has been a real good fourth line,” Julien said. “When [Brian] Ferlin’s been in, we had some good stints from that line as well. But now I guess what helps a lot is if you’ve got three veterans that have been around, you feel a little bit more comfortable, too, to give your top lines a break every once in a while after power plays and that you’ve got to utilize your bench a little bit more.
“I can afford to throw those guys against the other team’s top lines and know that there’s some experience and you can rely on them a little bit more. So that’s been a good change for us.”
Not really a change, just a return to what they once had. And it will be critical down the stretch and into the playoffs for the Bruins.
As an outsider, Talbot said he was impressed with Boston’s fourth line over the past few seasons. It’s not like the Bruins were the only team in the league with a successful fourth line, but for all the recent Stanley Cup winning teams, including the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, a common theme was the coach’s ability to roll four lines.
“It’s always been a big part of this team’s success,” Talbot said. “I always thought Boston had one of the best fourth lines in the league and they could play at any time during the game. They would always get a big momentum [boost] for this team. They would work hard and they would be tough to play against.”
Even though Talbot was describing the Bruins’ energy line from seasons past, his comments stood true for the last two games with him in the mix. Once again there’s a synergy of experience and pride on the fourth line.
“We want to thrive to be that best line again, and we can do that with Max,” Paille said.
With David Krejci sidelined with a knee injury, Ryan Spooner has been centering Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak. Once Krejci returns, many believe Spooner should replace Campbell as the fourth-line center. That would be a mistake. Nothing against Spooner, but the fourth line is perfect as it is currently constituted.
With a productive fourth line, Julien is able to balance his lineup and spread out the ice time instead of shortening his bench. That will be important during this stretch of 11 games in 18 days.
“When a fourth line is going, it gives you a lot of momentum,” Talbot said.
The Bruins are newly awakened. Their performance of late proves that if they can earn a playoff berth they will be a dangerous team.
As an exhausted Talbot walked away from the media scrum Sunday, he took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go to bed.”
The past three games in four nights went well for the Bruins. They collected five of a possible six points and the work of the fourth line was a key factor.
“It’s the sign of a good team,” Talbot said.