BOSTON -- With new coach Dale Hunter at the helm, the Washington Capitals rely more on work ethic and physical hockey than the run-and-gun style they had become known for with skilled players like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.
But while their grittier style may have helped the Capitals sneak into the playoffs and hang with the Boston Bruins in a 1-0 overtime loss in Game 1, the defending Stanley Cup champions thrive at playing rock 'em, sock 'em hockey.
The Bruins' fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton loves to mix it up. Known as the Merlot line due to the color of their practice jerseys, they are arguably the most effective fourth line in hockey. As they were in Game 1, they will be depended on to spell relief for the Bruins' top three lines in what promises to be some grueling hockey in at least three more games with the Capitals.
Bruins coach Claude Julien isn't afraid to use this line in crucial situations -- even in the playoffs -- and that's why he expects even more from the trio in Game 2 on Saturday.
"I guess our expectations of them are probably higher than most fourth lines and, to be honest with you, their fourth line gave our fourth line a pretty good go [Thursday]," Julien said. "As any other line, I'd like to see them improve as well. Having said that, they had some scoring chances [in Game 1]. I thought they did a great job of forechecking when they were in the offensive end. We've got to encourage them to try and work their way out of our own end quicker and spend more time in the other end."
Campbell, Paille and Thornton take pride in the fact that Julien views them as a key cog in the Bruins' system. That's why, on Friday, Campbell acknowledged that they weren't as effective in the third period, when the Capitals outshot the Bruins 9-3 after Boston had a 26-7 edge in shots through the first two periods.
"Our line in these kind of situations, we thrive in," Campbell said. "Our job is to bring energy and we're all meat-and-potatoes type of players. That's what playoff games are usually about -- making simple, strong and hard plays and helping out with the other three lines. Those guys log a lot of ice time and it's important for our line to provide energy at certain points and turn the momentum of the game.
"I thought we played fairly well in the first two periods, but the third period, as a team and as a line, we probably could've created a little bit more and we were on our heels a little bit. I think in that situation for our line, whether it's one, two, three shifts, we have to take the onus on trying to get the play into the offensive zone and hopefully the other lines follow."
Similarly, the Capitals' fourth line has become vital to their success. As Campbell pointed out Friday, Joel Ward, Keith Aucoin and Mathieu Perreault bring a combination of hard work and skill. Ward had 13 points in 12 games for the Nashville Predators in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and Campbell realizes the Capitals rely on their fourth line just as much as the Bruins do.
"Their third and fourth lines, arguably, are interchangeable and that fourth line is pretty skilled," Campbell said. "You saw what [Ward] did last year in the playoffs and he's very capable of playing in big games. The other two guys are really skilled players, and if you don't respect their skill they can make you look foolish. We want to be physical and in those situations you have to respect the talent that they have and play them hard and honest like you play the other two lines."
Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg will have a heavy dose of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin, but he knows that in the playoffs winning isn't always about the high-profile matchups -- it's a team effort. In his eyes, the play of the Merlot line is as crucial to the Bruins as that of the defensive pairings or the Bruins' top three lines.
"Just like we have on defense, we have great depth up front and our fourth line is just as important to us winning, especially in games like [Thursday's]," Seidenberg said. "[Zdeno Chara] and me are going to see their big guys on offense but it's a team effort and we need guys like Soup [Campbell], Thorty [Thornton] and Palsy [Paille] to come up big for us."
Chris Kelly, the hero of Game 1, knows just how lucky the Bruins are to have players such as Paille, Campbell and Thornton.
"They played well all year and as long as I've been here," Kelly said. "That's a huge line for us. They go out there and they work hard; they make the right plays, they're physical, they score goals and they play well in their own end. It's one of those things that I think every guy in the league would love to have is these three guys on their team."