Boston Bruins Fourth Line Redefining the Role

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From the moment the Boston Bruins completed their Game 7 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs, their fourth line of Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari has had a different name — a name given to them by controversial Bruins superstar and team playoff points leader Brad Marchand (7G-11A-18P). In response to an Instagram post about the fourth line’s five-point game in the 5-1 victory, Marchand corrected his team’s account – “That’s not the fourth line, that’s 1A.”

The Boston Bruins Fourth Line is Redefining the Position

For as long as hockey has had lines, the fourth line has meant the same thing. A line consisting of nothing but grit, physicality, and the ability to tighten the screws on the opposition. Add in one or two players who are willing to drop the gloves to keep things on the ice in check and you have a classic fourth-line recipe.

However, the game of hockey has evolved dramatically – especially in the last few decades. Introduction of concepts like advanced nutrition, workout and conditioning plans backed by sports science and a better understanding of the devastating effects of head injuries are making traditional fourth lines a thing of the past.

In a game that’s now about speed and skill over pure toughness and willingness to fight, the fourth line is evolving too. There may be no better place to witness this evolution than on the Boston Bruins.

Through the first round of the 2019 playoffs, the recurring story was that Boston’s top line (Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak) had to produce for the team to have any chance of beating the stacked Maple Leafs. The Bruins took that series in seven games after falling behind three games to two, but it wouldn’t be behind their all-star talent. In Boston’s 5-1 series clinching win at TD Garden, only one point (an empty net goal from Bergeron) came from the star players. Line “1A” provided two goals and three assists.

The trend continued in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as the Bruins beat the surging Columbus Blue Jackets in six. Although production from the top-six forward group was up, “1A” and trade deadline pickups Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle provided crucial goals, crucial defensive play and the energy the Bruins needed to move on.

Depth with Depth

What is it that makes the Bruins fourth line so vital to their success? Even throughout injury and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy‘s shake-ups, the “1A” group has maintained their high-octane play from the moment the playoffs began. When Noel Acciari was injured in the second round against Columbus, hometown favorite Chris Wagner slotted right in and scored two vital goals. Before David Backes finally found a home playing alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, he spent effective time with “1A”.

The bottom group adapts to strengthen the playing styles of any player they share the ice with. It certainly doesn’t hurt that both Sean Kuraly and Acciari have a higher face-off winning percentage than Krejci. Pastrnak’s brief stint with the middle six saw Coyle take a few shifts with Kuraly with electrifying results. It seems that no matter who plays in this role, they rise to the occasion.

What makes this line so different is that is features just as much skill, speed and tenacity as one expects to find among top-six forwards. At least twice in every series, the Kuraly-led “1A” unit has forechecked so effectively it makes the Bruins appear to have an extra skater on the ice.

The consistent pressure of Kurlay in behind the goal line and the puck-hunting tendencies of his linemates Wagner, Nordstrom, Acciari or other trap opposition in their own zone for extended periods of time. The group’s speed is well above the average fourth line, but their ability to lay down big hits is still on display in every zone.

The Future of the Fourth Line

The Boston Bruins fourth line isn’t perfect, nor is it the only fourth line group that is pushing the envelope of what a fourth line can be. The St. Louis Blues also feature an incredibly robust, skilled and talented group of players that includes former Team Sweden selection Alexander Steen.

Hockey will continue to change. The NHL will see more and more speed, skill and physical conditioning as the years wear on. The fourth lines of the past may not disappear entirely, but it is no mere coincidence that the two teams playing for the Cup are the two teams who have fully embraced the full potential of the fourth line.

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