The trio combined for 29 goals and 62 points last year, even with Paille playing just 43 games. Campbell and Thornton were two of just eight players in the NHL to reach double figures in both goals and fighting majors, and all three played key roles in the postseason as the Bruins hoisted the Cup for the first time in 39 years.
For most of this season, the "Merlot Line" has continued to make key contributions to the Bruins, adding energy, toughness and the kind of offensive production few fourth lines can match. They have already combined for another 19 goals and 38 points with 29 games left in the regular season.
But that production had stalled a bit of late. Thornton had gone eight games without a point and Campbell and Paille each had six-game droughts going into Saturday's clash with Nashville. But as they have so many times over the last two years, that unit came up big again when Paille scored a huge goal early in the third period of an eventual 4-3 shootout victory.
"We realize that our line's been playing well, just not scoring," said Paille, who has 9-5-14 totals in 49 games this season. "[Saturday] we had, you know four or five quality chances. It was nice to see one go in but, you know, obviously we had a little bit of a rough patch and no one’s really contributing. So we all want to do a little bit more to contribute."
Paille and Thornton certainly contributed on that play. Thornton set up the tally with a nifty backhanded pass out of the corner that may have surprised some, but not his longtime linemate.
"That's not new to me, I know he's got that [skill]," Paille said. "He just trusts me going to the net and that's our game. It's all about battling there [around the net]. So I think if we continue to do that we'll be OK."
Paille was better than OK on that play, as he drove to the front of the net and converted Thornton's feed with a backhander of his own 2:55 into the third.
"Piesy did a good job of beating his guy off the wall," Thornton said. "I just threw it to where he was going and it was pretty much all him. He got it on the forecheck and he out-muscled the guy to get open and he did a great job there.
"I knew [he'd be there]," added Thornton, who has 4-7-11 totals to go with a team-high 15 fighting majors in 53 games. "We talk a lot out there too, but yes I knew he beat his man off the boards. My back was turned but it wasn't hard to see him. I could see where he was coming from. So it wasn't a difficult play he was pretty vocal about where he was."
After the game, Paille was vocal about the contributions of his linemates.
"He sees the ice well and he knows we read each other well," Paille said of Thornton. "Same with Soupy [Campbell], so I think we've kind of gotten over that aspect of where we need to be and I think that's definitely key for all of us."
Getting production from that line, and everywhere throughout the lineup, has been a key to Boston's success over the past two years, so a return to the scoring column for the fourth line was a welcome sight, especially at an important juncture of Saturday's contest.
"It's up to different guys at different times to step up and play big at key moments," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "We had that here [Saturday] and I think, look at the Campbell line there, they've been playing so well for so long and they just haven't been getting the results and they finally step up and score a big goal for us so. You just can't depend on one line going and getting all the goals, you have to get it by committee. I think we had all 20 guys definitely going here [Saturday]."
Saturday they were rewarded, but Thornton was quick to point out that it wasn't as if the effort to produce has been lacking during the line's mini-slump.
"We always want to contribute," Thornton said. "It's not like we come into games and say, '[Bleep] it, we don't want to score tonight.' Especially our line, we work our [butts] off. Sometimes we get rewarded, sometimes we don't. We haven't been getting rewarded of late, but it's not for lack of effort or lack of opportunities, they just haven't been going in."
Coach Claude Julien wasn't concerned with the fourth line's recent dearth of goals, looking more at the big picture of how much they've produced this season.
"You need that no matter what," Julien said of Paille's first goal in 10 games. "I think that's his ninth goal, so for a guy who plays on the fourth line, I'm certainly happy with his production this year. He did exactly what we had talked about. We saw that if we could beat their guy that was pursuing us, it was important that we take it to the net."