Throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’ll be spotlighting unsung heroes around the postseason on a weekly basis.
He plays about eight minutes a night, yet his impact is more palpable than players with twice his ice time. He’s the most physically intimidating player on the Boston Bruins not named Zdeno Chara. Once in a while, he even gets offensive.
He’s Shawn Thornton, and together with Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell he’s playing on the most underrated line in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They skate hard, hit harder and possess the puck in the offensive zone better than some of their opponents’ top lines do.
They’re the “Merlot Line”, because of “the cranberry Bruins jerseys they don in practice,” according to Joe Haggerty.
Both Paille and Campbell have been seen as something more than fourth liners in their careers, but Thornton’s had to work hard to break the stigma that he’s just a brawler who barely warrants a roster spot.
“He’s not a high-end skill player,” Coach Claude Julien told the Boston Globe. “But he still has enough skill so you can use him and play him. That’s the thing that, as a coach, I’ve always liked of our enforcer. He’s one of those guys who can settle things down when things get out of hand, but he’s able to play. I don’t like having a guy sit on the bench playing 2-3 minutes and just utilizing him in those [fighting] situations. Thorny’s fit the bill extremely well.”
Although the bar is set low for his offensive contributions, Thornton comes through in some key spots. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Thornton took an offensive zone faceoff after Gregory Campbell was tossed from the circle. He won it back to Johnny Boychuk, whose blast beat Henrik Lundqvist. Later, his tipped shot went off of Lundqvist’s mask to set up Paille’s game-winner.
Offensive output aside, Thornton’s still at this best when he’s sticking for his teammates – like when Derek Dorsett of the Rangers started taking shots at Brad Marchand, and Thornton indicated he was ready to fight Dorsett. As he told WEEI:
“I don’t know how to say this without sounding cocky: If I’m asking to fight, it’s not going to be an easy fight for him, either. Not that I’m saying I could beat him up. I’m just saying it won’t be an easy fight, and that might have taken the life out of everyone, too. Or it might have gotten my team going even more. I don’t know. You can never I guess speculate on what was going to happen in different situations.”
One things for sure: With his fists or with his line’s tenacious fore-checking, Thornton makes a difference in his limited minutes.
Add in his quirky personality – please recall his dressing down of a Vancouver columnist – and he’s a fan favorite for the B’s.