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Fourth-liners doing a first-rate job

WILMINGTON -- Ask an NHL coach his philosophy on the fourth line's role and you'll get varying answers. Some like to use the trio, normally a group of grinders, on a semi-regular basis, depending on the score. Others use them for penalty-killing or for spot duty to spell other players.

Bruins coach Mike Sullivan believes in the value of four lines. It took him some time to find a combination that worked, but center Michal Grosek, left wing Rob Zamuner, and right wing Sandy McCarthy have emerged as an effective blend of toughness, grit, and the occasional scoring touch.

McCarthy scored the winning goal Tuesday night against Edmonton, making a nice move to come out from behind the net and flip the puck past Ty Conklin.

"I think Sandy is really a guy who probably gets undervalued for what he brings to the table," said Sullivan. "He's a pretty smart player. He's just a workhorse out there. He's a big body and he looks to use his physical stature as much as he can. He creates some scoring chances when he gets the puck down low. I was happy for him that he got rewarded."

McCarthy said any points they generate is gravy.

"When we get out there, we really try to get the momentum in our favor and I think we've been playing real hard and real solid all season, so it's nice to get rewarded," he said. "I think if you look over the years, teams that win have four lines that produce. I think it's important for everybody to get their hands dirty. We're all pretty good hockey players. I think all of us have played 500 or 600 games. We've proven we can play in this league."

McCarthy and Zamuner's relationship goes back to their days in Tampa. Zamuner said because of the way the franchise was struggling, everyone played with everybody at some point.

"It wasn't a fun time," said Zamuner. "I think we were probably on the ice for a couple of goals against, too."

Zamuner missed the first 10 games with a hamstring injury and Grosek found himself odd man out of the lineup for three games prior to being put with McCarthy and Zamuner. For Zamuner, who was in the lineup for the last five contests, he was just hoping to find a spot in the mix.

"It's been kind of bad luck with my injuries," he said. "At the beginning of camp, it looked like I was playing with [Brian Rolston and P.J. Axelsson] and then [Patrice Bergeron] stepped in and played great. As you get to the later stages of your career, you realize that if you're on a good team, you're going to play maybe less minutes than you would somewhere else.

"If you're happy with not playing more, then I think you're in trouble. I think we are all like that, it comes in different ways. That's our competitive edge. If you don't have it, you're in trouble. It's something where you're happy helping the team out but you always want to play more. It's hard for Sully to keep everyone happy. It's virtually impossible. The other night [against Dallas], we didn't play that much and he addressed it with us. Sometimes it's going to happen."

Some fourth-liners fret about making a mistake during a shift because they're worried they won't get out for another one. Sullivan seems committed to using them, and that confidence has translated to less tense feelings.

"We all want to do well," said McCarthy. "We all want to make sure we make the right decisions on the ice. If we don't, we may not get back out there and we want to play so we want to make sure we're doing the right things."

But McCarthy said he doesn't feel the same kind of anxiety with Sullivan that he has with some other coaches because of that confidence.

"It makes you go harder," said McCarthy, "because you respect what he's doing for you."

Grosek's time with the Bruins has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride.

"We have a good fourth line," said Grosek. "We understand each other and I think it shows in a game. There aren't that many fourth lines like that. I think he's an honest coach. Last year, [under Robbie Ftorek] it didn't matter how you played. It was the same junk. Here, you get rewarded. You get more ice time and everybody is looking for that."

Sullivan, whose team just finished unbeaten (2-0-1-0) in a three-game homestand, said it's been a matter of experimentation and he's doing his best to keep everyone happy and playing as much as possible.

"We think we have a fourth line that is arguably one of the best fourth lines in the league," said the coach. "We have pretty good players on that line and we want to give them a chance to make contributions. We have some energy guys, we have some toughness. They're an important piece of the puzzle and we need those guys. I want them to know they might not log as many minutes as some of the other guys but they're a vital part of our team. [What they bring] can't be measured in the amount of minutes they play." . . .

Despite Joe Thornton's comments to Canadian TV network TSN on Monday that his back was killing him, Sullivan said he isn't worried about his star center's health. Thornton hasn't missed a practice or a game, but said he was ailing a bit. "As far as I'm aware, he's a pretty healthy kid," said Sullivan. "I don't know where that came up. I think Joe is getting inundated with questions surrounding the officiating. We've tried to speak to Joe and emphasize his job is to play hockey. That's something that's out of his control and we don't want him to exert any energy whatsoever on whether or not he's getting a call out there."

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