By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins’ new fourth line may lack a nickname, but it has plenty of mantras.
“We just keep it simple,” Bruins forward Tim Schaller, the left wing who plays next to center Sean Kuraly and right wing Noel Acciari, said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday.
“That’s an unselfish play to put the puck on net,” Kuraly said, inadvertently creating another potential slogan for his line.
So many things have been going right for the Bruins during their 7-0-2 run, no one line or group of players can hog all the credit. But the emergence of a new-age fourth line that combines grit and defensive responsibility with some offensive pop and a ton of speed has been one of the most pleasant surprises 38 games into this season, especially during the Bruins’ recent rise to second place in the Atlantic Division.
Ironically, the improving fourth line had one of its best games at the New York Islanders in a 5-1 win on Tuesday. Two years ago, the Islanders had one of the best fourth lines in the NHL with Casey Cizikas centering Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. That summer the Islanders decided to not spend as much on Martin as an unrestricted free agent as Toronto was willing to shell out, and the Islanders have been searching for a fourth line they can rely on ever since.
The Bruins haven’t gotten this much bang from their fourth line since the heyday of the “Merlot Line” with Gregory Campbell centering Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. The Bruins struggled to adjust to the evolution of the league toward speed on all four lines, but now they have found three players willing to not just throw the body but also fly up and down the ice.
Acciari, who had an empty-net goal in Brooklyn, has a goal in three straight games. Schaller ended a five-game goal drought against the Islanders, and Kuraly set up Schaller’s goal with a perfect shot on net that created a rebound on a 2-on-1.
Kuraly’s play (which started with a steal at the defensive blue line after a pit bull-caliber backcheck) was proof that both of the above-mentioned mantras are in effect seemingly every shift for his line. He didn’t try a fancy saucer pass; he didn’t pull up and worry about making sure the Bruins had a high man in case of a giveaway. He fired a shot off Jaroslav Halak’s pad and then Schaller made the type of net-crashing play every fourth liner has to have in his tool box.
“We kind of all believe that the three of us, and when we’re all on the same page you can see that a pass off the net’s just as good as one right on the tape,” Kuraly said.
Thirty-one coaches in the NHL search high and low for a line combination that will do the dirty work. Cassidy seemingly has found a fourth-line that will do that and can be relied on in all situations, including playing against top opponents in close games. In 23 games together, Boston’s fourth line has been on the ice for four goals scored and just two goals against at 5-on-5, according to Corsica.hockey.
“It’s more fun to make plays, it’s more fun to be creative, I believe. That’s why it’s a tougher sell,” Cassidy said. “For those guys, they’re all OK with it … and they get it and they’ve been rewarded.
“I think the fact that they can play against other teams’ [top] lines is why they’re on the ice a lot. When you’re on the ice a lot, you tend to have more chance to produce. So they’ve kind of figured out ‘how are we going to get on the ice, first of all?’ Defend well, be hard to play against, and now the offensive side of it’s coming.”
Acciari, Kuraly and Schaller produced their share of points in college and the lower levels of the sport, but none projected as NHL scorer material. So maybe that’s made it easier to find their roles now that they’ve solidified their spots at the sport’s highest level.
Whatever’s helping this trio be effective, the Bruins need Acciari, Kuraly and Schaller to keep doing it because they’re wearing down opponents and making it easier for Cassidy to keep ice time down for his stars.
They may not have a ready-made nickname, but if they keep up at their current pace they’ll stick together long enough for something to emerge without it being force-fed by any writers or broadcasters.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.