NEW YORK -- After the Boston Bruins gained a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, each member of the Bruins' energy line was doing something different to celebrate the win.
Daniel Paille was sporting the Bruins' Army Ranger jacket (which is given out after each win to the player who performed above and beyond the call of duty) for his two-point performance, including the game-winning goal in the waning minutes of the third period. Gregory Campbell was riding the stationary bike in the hallway just outside the Bruins' locker room at Madison Square Garden. And Shawn Thornton was busy doing postgame television interviews for his two-point night.
Paille, Campbell and Thornton have been playing together on a line for the past three seasons, and because they're so effective, Bruins coach Claude Julien is able to roll four lines and not shorten his bench many nights. That was the case again Tuesday night, and it resulted in a big win for the Bruins.
"They were working hard. They've scored some big goals for us in the playoffs. We have confidence in that line; we've said it a million times," Julien said. "Tonight was no exception. We utilize them because they're good, not because we have to."
Julien and the rest of the Bruins team respect that trio's ability so much that they refuse to identify them as the team's fourth line.
"It's a huge compliment to say that, and we're truly flattered," Paille said. "'Soup' and I and Thorty, we realize what we need to do and we try to do it the best way we can. Some nights we're going to play more minutes and some nights we're not. We've accepted that, and that's why we've learned to try to be as successful as we can be."
For years they've been called the energy line or the merlot line (the color of their practice sweaters), but they've evolved into the three elements of earth, wind and fire. All three players bring a different element, and that synergy makes that line play well and contribute. Plus, they've played together so long that each one knows the tendencies of the others.
Campbell is the earth. Paille is the wind. Thornton is the fire.
"Thornton brings that intensity, that veteran presence. 'Soupy,' he's a calm center man. And I just tried to bring as much speed as I can to attack the opposing players," Paille said. "We read off each other very well."
Even after the Game 3 win, Thornton focused more on the team's complete, 60-minute effort rather than on just his line. In fact, the way Boston played Tuesday night was reminiscent of how the Bruins were able to win the Stanley Cup in 2011.
"We're a better team when all four lines are going 60 [minutes] and [Tuukka Rask is] on top of his game," Thornton said. "Again, tonight we didn't have any passengers. [Our line] might have been the ones who got a couple of goals, but I thought everyone was going."
During Boston's first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Julien described his team as Jekyll and Hyde because of its inconsistencies all season. Now, the coach sees a more focused team, and that's a big reason for Boston's current four-game playoff winning streak.
"We're trying to be in the moment," Patrice Bergeron said. "Today was a good example. We're down by one goal but we still thought we were doing some good things, and instead of going on our heels and sitting back, we kept going at them, kept pushing and kept believing we were going to get it. That goes a long way, especially in the playoffs.
"It was a good effort from everyone -- top to bottom," Bergeron added. "That's what we need in the playoffs, the little details and our fourth line came up huge in that third period, but I thought all the lines and all the D's chipped in and helped us win that game."
Early on, it appeared Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist -- who had struggled in the first two games of this series -- had returned to form. When New York's Taylor Pyatt scored at 3:53 of the second period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead, it appeared Lundqvist would do the rest.
When he's playing as well as he did in Game 3, any opponent would realize it would take a greasy goal to break through the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. He was playing with confidence and making timely saves, which is something he wasn't able to do in the first two games of this series.
The Bruins were getting their chances and hitting posts along the way, until Boston finally created traffic in front and it resulted in the Bruins' first goal.
"If you don't see it, it's going to be obviously tough to stop it," Bergeron said. "We know he's a great goalie and if he sees the shot, he's going to make the stop, so it's about adding some better screens, and we did that in the third and made it harder on him. We found a way, well, the fourth line found a way."
Boston's energy line was able to sustain a tight forecheck when rookie defenseman Matt Bartkowski pinched to keep the puck in the Rangers' zone. Paille gained control and fed the puck back to the point for defenseman Johnny Boychuk. With Campbell and Thornton creating traffic in front of Lundqvist, Boychuk's wrister from the right point found its way through to tie the game at 3:10 of the third. The tally was Boychuk's fourth of the playoffs.
"They've been doing a great job and they deserve the credit because sometimes they get overlooked by our other lines," Boychuk said. "They've been doing a good job by just doing the simple things and creating energy for us, and when they score, we feed off of it."
Paille's game-winning goal was all about crashing the net with reckless abandon. After Thornton's shot popped over Lundqvist's head and landed on the goal line, Paille came screeching around the net and, with a defender on him, knocked it home to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 16:29 of the third period.
"We are a four-line-deep team, and it showed again tonight," Bergeron said. "We obviously gotta keep doing the same things, but it's only three wins and we've said it so many times that the last one is the toughest, so we've got to make sure we regroup and be ready for that fourth win."
The Bruins will have a chance to close out the series (and complete a sweep) Thursday night at MSG. In the past, the Bruins have had trouble closing out series, including in the first round, when they had a 3-1 lead on the Maple Leafs and needed seven games to finally win.
Plus, this Boston team has had a 3-0 series lead in the semifinal round twice in recent history. In 2010, the Bruins suffered an epic collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers, but they redeemed themselves in 2011 with a series sweep against Philadelphia.
"We were confident going into this series, but it's not over," Paille said. "We've been in this situation before and we've seen it go the other way. For us, we're going to have to have that instinct to play as hard as we did tonight because they're going to be a team that does not want to lose that way."