Deep playoff runs for the Boston Bruins typically coincide with the team getting above-average play from their fourth line. Does that mean the Black and Gold will be playing into the summer this year, too?
The Bruins, it appears, have a top-flight fourth line once again. It’s only been two games, but the addition of Curtis Lazar to the mix has jump-started Boston’s checking line. Alongside Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, Lazar’s early impact has been impossible to ignore.
Take Thursday night’s win over the New York Islanders for example. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy started the fourth line, clearly looking for some sort of jump. He got that and then some.
Lazar won a puck battle in the neutral zone that allowed him to dump it in deep and get in on the forecheck. Moments later, he delivered a big body check on Isles defenseman Ryan Pulock behind the net. Thrice, Kuraly won his puck battles along the wall on the left wing. With help from a pinching defenseman, Wagner was first on the puck in the right faceoff dot that kept possession alive. Ultimately, Kuraly’s third win led to a heady behind-the-net pass to Wagner, who quickly skated to the front of the net and put a backhander on net, forcing Semyon Varlamov to freeze the puck.
“(The fourth line has) been a staple of this team since I’ve been here and before that. The start of the game last night was a great example of how the game can get tilted in your favor early on,” Cassidy said on a video conference Friday morning. “Just a real strong shift, managing the puck, physical against Pulock and their D. Recovering pucks, getting to the net, just building some momentum early — I know we don’t have the same crowd numbers but getting them in the game, getting our bench into the game and letting the other team know we’re here to play.”
As a result, there was plenty of ice time for Lazar and his line, both in the offensive zone but also with high-leverage matchups against New York’s top line.
“That was nice to see them do their job and get rewarded with some O-zone time. As a result, their minutes reflected it,” Cassidy said. “They’re a line that in the third gets matched up a little more against Barzal. They played the right way all night, and good for them.”
The improved depth is one of the biggest benefits for the Bruins coming out of the trade deadline. Obviously, Taylor Hall’s impact on the second line is obvious, but it’s pretty clear getting Lazar thrown into that deal with Buffalo is a benefit to the B’s, too.
Cassidy acknowledged Lazar has to fight for those minutes with no shortage of fourth-line options, but Thursday night’s performance was one of the best of the season from that line. If there’s that sort of consistency moving forward, Lazar will stay in the lineup, and the Bruins become far more dangerous.