Jan. 13--On Hockey

Phil Stacey

Merlot they are not.

They don't have to be, either. All the Boston Bruins want is for Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari to be themselves and play to the best of their ability, both as individuals and as a trio.

They're all Americans. They all wear uniform numbers in the 50's. They all weigh north of 200-plus pounds. They've combined for 211 hits delivered to unsuspecting foes.

Not coincidentally, all three won Defensive Forward of the Year honors for their respective conferences in college: Schaller and Acciari both did so for Providence in Hockey East; Kuraly at Miami of Ohio in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Any one of them can fight if need be -- Schaller and Kuraly dropped the gloves on back-to-back nights just after Christmas -- but that isn't a priority. Their collective job descriptions are a bit varied.

Deliver big hits at any time to anyone. Clear the zone whenever the chance presents itself. Forecheck like crazed wildebeests and keep the opponents hemmed in their own end. Win 50/50 pucks whenever they're .

And don't get scored upon.

Lest you've forgotten, the Merlot Line was, and will be, the measure by which all grind lines wearing Black and Yellow will be measured in the foreseeable future. In Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, the Bruins had speed (Paille), grit (Campbell) and pugnaciousness (Thornton and, to a lesser degree, Campbell) that could hold their own against any foes, pop in the occasional goal and swing momentum with an open ice hit or plastering an opponent along the boards.

These Guys are not Those Guys. But for the most part, the Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari line (they need their own nickname; maybe 'SKA', as in the musical genre?) have done their job.

That's especially true during the Bruins' recent torrid run in which they've gone 17-5-1 since Nov. 16. Acciari, who missed 13 games following the season opener with a finger injury, has benefited the most offensively, having scored four of his six goals this season over the last five games. He's also been a plus-7 over the last 13 games and hasn't registered a minus in any contest since Dec. 7 vs. Arizona.

The 5-foot-10, 208-pound Acciari -- who'd hit a rhino if you got him fitted for skates and out onto the ice -- has registered 67 in the 26 games he's played, good for a team leading 2.6 hits per contest. He had 10 (!) one night in Anaheim earlier this season, and it's a pattern: he dished out 80 in only 29 NHL games with Boston a year ago. The 26-year-old right winger excels at winning battles along the walls and is also a valuable penalty killer.

Kuraly, the 24-year-old two-way center, has gone from one assist in an 8-game cup of coffee with Boston last winter to respectable 3-5-8 totals while playing in all 40 games thus far. His 77 hits are tops among the team's forwards and fourth overall to rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy (92), fellow blue liner Kevan Miller (90) and captain Zdeno Chara (87).

Never a goal scorer -- Kuraly's high in college was 19 markers, and he hasn't scored for Boston since Nov. 24 -- don't forget that it was Kuraly's double overtime Game 5 tally in Ottawa that extended Boston's season in last year's playoffs..

Still, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder makes mettle the major element of his hockey portfolio. To wit, he's had multiple hits in 12 of his last 15 outings, including a season-high five last Sunday in Pittsburgh.

On the left side, Schaller is the oldest (27) and heaviest (219) of the trio, a player who has six fewer hits than he had all of last season (59 games). A restricted free agent who signed a one-year deal with the Bruins last summer, he's found himself a home on the fourth line.

The New Hampshire native has also appeared in all 40 games while scoring five goals and 11 points, with a pair of one goal, one assist games to his credit. Rarely is he out of position (being a former defensemen helps with that), and he's eager to play a bigger role in this season's playoffs a few months from now after also scoring in the 2017 postseason, where he finished plus-2.

Are they flashy, exciting or even have a wow factor nickname? No.

But is their play essential to the continued success of the 2017-18 Bruins?

Absolutely.

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Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins and pro hockey for CNHI Sports Boston. He has been covering the Bruins for over 20 years. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN

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