By: Gayle Troiani | Follow me on Twitter @LadyBruinsFan
Who doesn’t love a good merlot? It’s friendly, balanced, popular, and versatile. Fortunately for Bruins fans, we were spoiled by merlot for four years with the output, toughness, and passion of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, and Shawn Thornton. But unfortunately, there hasn’t been another group of players to duplicate what that fourth line brought to the ice game in and out.
There was something extraordinary about the three players that donned the burgundy practice jerseys. You never had to question their work ethic on the ice. They always left it all on the ice every shift they played, whether the Merlot line was on the ice early in the first period or if the game was tied late in the third. Fans never questioned Head Coach Claude Julien’s decision to put them out there; unlike other teams’ fourth lines, they were not a defensive liability.
Thornton would protect not just his linemates but also the rest of the team.
In December 2013, Thorton took exception to how Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik took down Loui Eriksson. Unfortunately, Thornton did go a bit over the top on the unsuspecting Orpik and earned himself a 15-game suspension. Until then, Thornton had racked up 873 career penalty minutes without being suspended. Whether you agree with the suspension, which I do, or you don’t, you knew Thornton would be the first guy to drop his gloves when he felt one of his teammates was on the wrong end of a questionable hit. Remember, he was the Bruin that took on Matt Cooke after Cooke’s headshot to Marc Savard.
It wasn’t just Thornton on that line that showed passion and toughness. Who could forget the infamous shift Campbell finished in Game 3 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals when he blocked an Evgeni Malkin slapshot that broke his right fibula during a penalty kill against the Penguins?
Campbell could have stayed on the ice, hoping for a whistle but instead showed hockey fans what it means to be a hockey player. Although he could not put pressure on his left leg, Campbell remained on the ice and finished his shift. So Boston fans recognized the pain Campbell was in and what he did for his team by staying on the ice that the Garden faithful chanted “Campbell, Campbell” even long after he got off the ice.
Campbell was a staple on the penalty kill in his five seasons with the black and gold, and his defensive play on the kill helped the Bruins limit Vancouver’s league-leading power play to just extra strength goals during the 2011 seven-game Stanley Cup Final.
When the Bruins acquired Paille from the Buffalo Sabres during the 2009-10 season, he rounded out the non-typical fourth line. He may not have been the offensive player Buffalo expected, but he did precisely what the Bruins wanted and needed for a fourth-line wing. In 375 games with Boston, Paille scored 50 goals and added 45 assists. It wasn’t the number of goals that solidified Paille as a fan favorite, but more often than not, the timing.
The Bruins did have a couple of fourth lines that gave us glimpses of the Merlot Line, but they never quite achieved the success Paille, Thorton, and Campbell did. Fans will remember the Merlot Line as one of the most beloved trios in Bruins’ history behind the “Perfection Line” of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, but it also marks the end of an era.
Sadly, much to the dismay of long-time black and gold fans, the Big, Bad Bruins are a thing of the past because the NHL has evolved into a faster, more skilled game. Yes, the NHL has grinder lines, but none as unique and physical as the Merlot Line. So it’s safe to say if you matched the Merlot Line up against Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen, they may not have the same success as they did in 2011.