The Boston Bruins opted to roll with a fourth line consisting of Sean Kuraly, Curtis Lazar, and Chris Wagner in the first round of the playoffs against the Washington Capitals, and have stayed with that combination now going into Round 2. Not much attention has been paid to them ever since the team acquired major upgrades on their top three lines that stabilized the forward lineup, especially now that players like Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk, and Craig Smith are getting hot in the postseason.
However, we’ve seen fourth lines of the past play big roles in the playoffs for the Bruins. This is a time of year where all players must pull in one direction, and that requires a great deal of chemistry and synchrony. Things either click in place for a team, or they don’t. Role players like those on the fourth line usually contribute significantly to this because it is, in some ways, their role: they play a simple, hard-nosed kind of game and provide energy on the ice, which gives life to the rest of the team.
Kuraly, Lazar, and Wagner did not have a spectacular series against the Capitals. However, we’ve seen how quickly things can change in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the door is wide open for this fourth line to find a way to click in Round 2 against the New York Islanders. If the Bruins are going to have a deep postseason run, they will need their role players to kick into a higher gear.
Kuraly and Wagner’s Impact in the 2019 Run
We’ve seen this storyline before, most notably with the “Merlot Line” from the Bruins’ 2011 championship. More recently, however, was the fourth line of 2019, which closely resembles today’s current group. This line consistently made an impact each game throughout the Bruins’ run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, not only by giving life to the rest of the team but also by providing significant depth scoring. Their forechecking and knack for grinding down the opponent was what made them one of the better fourth lines in the league, and the Bruins benefited from it every night.
At the heart of their success was their ability to find a strong playing identity and embrace it. It is telling that in 2018-19, the fourth line was one of the most intact lines on the team, with only Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari getting shuffled in and out. This is a stark difference from today’s fourth line that iced numerous different combinations of players throughout the regular season. In the 2019 Cup run, they found a way to produce something greater than the sum of their parts, and it made them a staple in the forward lineup.
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This is also why we saw Kuraly and Wagner both have impressive seasons that year. Kuraly’s title as a “clutch” player was fully established thanks to his knack for scoring dramatic game-winners, while Wagner had a career-high 19 points. The strength of the line collaboratively allowed for each individual player to thrive and contribute to each other’s success.
Finding Old Success in a New Series
Neither Kuraly nor Wagner have been able to match their 2019 success recently, and the line has fallen flat. However, there is some promise for both players to find their old swagger; Wagner reclaiming his spot in the lineup can push him to get back into a rhythm, while Kuraly’s history of success this time of year points to good signs. The addition of Lazar at the trade deadline has also been a beneficial fixture for this trio, which will help the group continue to develop chemistry together.
Not only is a strong fourth line a significant characteristic of successful Bruins’ teams, but it also will be a critical part of their series against the Islanders. New York is a known defensive team and could potentially make offense hard to come by for the Bruins. If this is the case, the team will more than ever need the depth players to keep up the intensity and grind down the Islanders’ defense. The fourth line can also provide an extra lift to the Bruins in the physicality department: the two teams tend to play heavy-hitting games against each other, and this might be a chance for grinders like Kuraly, Lazar, and Wagner to find a more intense style of play.
Most importantly, however, is that this is an entirely new series with a clean slate. Sometimes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all it takes for a player or line to get hot is a slight change of mindset. Going into Round 2 with high morale after eliminating the Capitals might be the boost of confidence that Kuraly, Lazar, and Wagner need to truly click. Their ability to do so will have a big influence on the Bruins’ success and how deep they go into the postseason.
Bentley University class of ’22. Bruins fan from Massachusetts with a love of all things hockey. Started playing in high school and never looked back.