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New 4th line poured for Bruins’ playoff push

03.02.16 at 1:30 am ET
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Noel Acciari

Noel Acciari

Energy. Momentum. Presence. Toughness.

These were some of the qualities associated with the famous “Merlot Line” of Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup championship team.

But in 2016 — with neither Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell nor Daniel Paille walking through that door to don that unit’s burgundy-colored practice jerseys — the Bruins’ fourth line would settle for bringing a steady dose of just one of the aforementioned qualities. Not to mention it would settle for just being settled.

On Tuesday night at TD Garden against Calgary, with two new forwards in the B’s dressing room thanks to changes made at the NHL trade deadline, a brand new Bruins fourth line took the ice in the form of Landon Ferraro, Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly.

First there was the demoted Connolly, 23, playing in his 61st game of the season but jettisoned from Patrice Bergeron’s right wing on Tuesday as 33-year-old newcomer Lee Stempniak took his place.

“Well, they made a decision, and I’m not going to sit here and cry about it,” Connolly said after Boston’s 2-1 victory. “The [trades] were good, and you know our team got better, and that’s a GM’s job is to make the team better. And you know, we’ll see what happens, things can change.”

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5 things we learned as new-look Bruins barely hang on vs. Flames

03.01.16 at 9:39 pm ET
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One-game overreactions are silly, but here’s one: The post-deadline Bruins are good enough to barely muster a win against one of the worst teams in the NHL.

After Calgary was called for too many men on the ice with 4:07 remaining in regulation, Patrice Bergeron scored on the power play to break a third-period tie and give the Bruins a much-needed 2-1 victory over the hapless Flames. The win allowed the Bruins to surpass the idle Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The game saw trade acquisitions Lee Stempniak, John-Michael Liles and recent Providence recall Noel Acciari make their Bruins debuts. While none of the three newcomers wound up on the scoresheet, the Bruins managed the close win in a similar fashion to how they’d won many prior to their acquisitions: by Tuukka Rask keeping them in a low-scoring game that probably shouldn’t have been so low-scoring.

Rask, whose lone goal allowed came in the third period on Jakub Nakladal’s first career goal, made 24 saves in the victory.

The Bruins’ schedule will get considerably more difficult from here on out, beginning with games Thursday and Saturday against the Blackhawks and Capitals, respectively.

Here are four more things we learned Tuesday:

STEMPNIAK SLOTS WITH BERGERON LINE

As expected, Stempniak skated on the right wing of Bergeron’s line with Brad Marchand. He also served as a penalty-killer for Boston. The journeyman right wing had shot shots on goal in his Bruins debut. He attempted an empty-net goal in the final minute of the game, but missed the net for an icing call.

Liles skated alongside Adam McQuaid. Acciari centered the fourth-line with Landon Ferraro and Brett Connolly as the B’s used the following lineup:

Marchand-Bergeron-Stempniak
Eriksson-Krejci-Pastrnak
Beleskey-Spooner-Hayes
Ferraro-Acciari-Connolly

Chara-Miller
Krug-Seidenberg
Liles-McQuaid

Rask

SILENCE IS (BLACK AND) GOLDEN

Despite the Flames entering Tuesday night with the third-fewest points in the standings in the NHL, they found a way to keep the Bruins very quiet.

Though the B’s picked it up in the third, they had just 14 shots on goal through the first two periods of Tuesday’s game.

HAMILTON BOOED

Tuesday marked Dougie Hamilton’s first game back in Boston, a fact of which the crowd was seemingly well aware.

Hamilton, who was traded in the offseason after not wanting to re-sign with the B’s as a restricted free agent, received loud boos each time he touched the puck Tuesday night. The young defenseman had a relatively quiet night otherwise, though he was on the ice for Landon Ferraro’s first-period goal.

NEW-LOOK FOURTH LINE FINDS RESULTS

The Bruins have favored grit over skill with their fourth lines over the years, but Tuesday saw the debut of a line of Acciari between Ferraro and Connolly. The line came to be after Acciari was recalled and Stempniak’s acquisition bumped Connolly down in the lineup.

Having more skilled players than the type they’d had on the line at points this season (Zac Rinaldo, Tyler Randell) proved to work. After Connolly kept the puck in the zone during a first-period shift, Torey Krug fed Ferraro from the wall for the game’s first goal.

John-Michael Liles hopes to push pace with Bruins

03.01.16 at 12:37 pm ET
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John-Michael Liles will make his Bruins debut Tuesday. (USA Today Sports)

John-Michael Liles will make his Bruins debut Tuesday. (USA Today Sports)

This summer, the Bruins signed free agent Matt Irwin to a one-year contract in hopes that the former Shark would help the Bruins in the transition game. It was a low-cost move, as all it cost the B’s was $800,000 and a roster spot.

It did not work.

After two games, Irwin’s play in his own end was so costly to the B’s that they waived him and sent him to Providence, where he’s been ever since. At Monday’s trade deadline, they took a similar crack at such an acquisition.

Former Hurricane John-Michael Liles is not known for his defensive play, but his skating and offensive production are strengths. After giving up two mid-round picks and an AHL player (Anthony Camara) for his services, the Bruins hope his presence will make the Bruins a better offensive team. To paraphrase a point made by Don Sweeney Monday, the more a team has the puck, the less it has to defend in its own zone.

“In Carolina, we played a system that put a premium on D-men getting pucks up to the forwards quickly,” Liles said. “That’s one of the strengths of my game, and my skating. Hopefully I can add something. They’ve got a lot of great players here and a lot of guys that I look forward to playing with.”

Where a potential Liles-Bruins marriage may fail is in the D zone, however, where the 35-year-old has never been known as a strong player. Liles was given difficult assignments in Carolina, where he had the second-toughest zone starts on the team.

“I think it’s been good,” he said of his defensive play. “It’s something you try to focus on each and every year. I’m never going to be the biggest guy out there. I’m never going to run guys over all that much, but I try to play solid defense. If I can add to the offense by using my skating, that’s something I’ve tried to do from Day 1 in the NHL.”

Where Liles fits in on Boston’s back end remains to be seen. He served as a second-pairing defenseman in Carolina, which could also be his role with the Bruins. Claude Julien noted that the Bruins can use the the left-shooting Liles on the right side in addition to his traditional spot on the left.

Chris Kelly skates, no timetable on return

03.01.16 at 12:32 pm ET
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Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly skated Tuesday morning at TD Garden, marking his first time on the ice since suffering a fractured femur on Nov. 3.

The injury, which required surgery, was expected to keep Kelly out for six-to-eight months. The 35-year-old center was noncommittal on how much his timetable has changed.

“I don’t know,” Kelly said when asked if he still considered himself out for the season. “You just come in and listen to the training staff and just go through the process. That’s really all it’s been is taking it a day at a time and going through the process. Obviously, I knew it was going to be a long process.”

Kelly is in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at season’s end. He said he has not thought much about potential retirement since suffering the injury.

“I think personally, you try to stay in the moment,” Kelly said. “As hockey players, you try to focus all your attention on what you’re doing. If you’re playing, you’re focused on the game and playing to the best of your abilities. If you get injured, your focus is on trying to get back as soon as possible. The mindset is come in here, work hard every day and try to get back as quick and healthy as possible.”

Should Kelly be able to return at any point, he would likely slot in as Boston’s fourth-line center. Tuesday will mark the first game of Noel Acciari’s audition for that role.

Zac Rinaldo suspended 5 games for illegal check to head of Cedric Paquette

03.01.16 at 12:04 pm ET
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The NHL Department of Player Safety announced Tuesday that Bruins forward Zac Rinaldo has been suspended five games for an illegal check to the head of Lightning forward Cedric Paquette.

This is the fourth suspension of Rinaldo’s career and first as a member of the Bruins. He has now been suspended a total of 19 games in his career.

The B’s sent the former Flyer to Providence on Monday. It remains unclear at this point whether the NHL will allow the suspension to be served at the AHL level.

Bruins recall Noel Acciari from Providence

03.01.16 at 10:33 am ET
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The Bruins announced Tuesday that they have recalled center Noel Acciari from Providence. Acciari, Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles all participated in an optional morning skate for the B’s Tuesday.

Acciari is in his first professional season after playing three years at Providence College. The Rhode Island native has seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points in 42 AHL games this season.

“I like what I saw from training camp” a real strong, gritty guy, good hockey sense, skates, forechecks hard. Will go to the dirty areas and so on, so forth,” Claude Julien said Tuesday morning. “We’re going to have a real good look at him here. It’s a great opportunity for him, but it’s certainly coming in at this time of the season, for him to have that opportunity is pretty special. We’ll have a good look at him tonight and we’ll see how well he does. I suspect he’ll do well, from what I hear I’ve had nothing but great reports on him, so we’ll see where he is when it comes to playing at this level.”

Looking at how Lee Stempniak, John-Michael Liles will fit with Bruins

03.01.16 at 12:02 am ET
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The biggest name the Bruins came away with at the trade deadline was the one they kept in Loui Eriksson. After that, they made the questionable decision to double down as buyers and add a couple of veterans that figure to take the spots of young players down the stretch.

It’s debatable whether the Bruins should have acquired Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles, but what’s done is done. Those guys will be used as part of a potential playoff run. Here’s our best guess as to how.

LEE STEMPNIAK

The Bruins probably didn’t give up a second-rounder and a fourth-rounder so Stempniak could be a bottom-sixer, so the guess here is that he’ll replace Brett Connolly on Patrice Bergeron’s right wing. That would bump Connolly to either the bottom six or the press box.

Stempniak will provide Bergeron with another scorer on his line, as he has 13 even-strength goals this season to Connolly’s six.

Here’s how Stempniak compares to Connolly in all facets of the game:

JOHN-MICHAEL LILES

The 35-year-old left shot defenseman could play on the left side of Boston’s second or third pairing. That gives the Bruins options regarding guys like Torey Krug and Dennis Seidenberg who can be bumped to the left side, and the guess here is that his presence will push young lefty Joe Morrow out of the lineup.

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