The Bruins’ forward grouping of center Sean Kuraly, left wing Joakim Nordstrom and right wing Chris Wagner is often referred to as “the fourth line,” but don’t get too hung up on that designation. There’s an argument to be made that, after the Bruins’ explosive top line, the Kuraly-led unit is the next most important line, especially with the nominal second and third lines still very much in flux.

Oh, sure, the trio brings many of the qualities often associated with fourth lines. The players inject energy, throw checks and eat pucks with the best of them. In fact, Kuraly, Nordstrom and Wagner all missed significant time last year with broken bones that resulted from blocked shots.

But the group has become a more reliable unit than your typical energy line. Oftentimes Coach Bruce Cassidy will tap them on the shoulder to play key shifts against the opposition’s top line, taking some of the burden off the top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on some nights (though the top line saw plenty of Auston Matthews/Mitch Marner combo the last couple of games). And while there hasn’t been a ton of offensive production from the line, the group is expected to chip in. The Kuraly line accounted for 27 goals last year.

The responsibilities have become a point of pride.

“I think the expectations for us are a little higher,” said Kuraly. “We’re not just expected to go out and play defense, we’re expected to contribute every now and again. I think it’s taken a little bit of time to find my way early in the year here, but I think it’s something that just builds and builds. We know we’re an important part of the team. The first line is doing most of the scoring, but we’re getting some secondary scoring now. We saw last year that the team relies on us sometimes and we’ve got to be a piece that helps push the game in our direction as often as possible.”

Cassidy talked about how one of the things that makes the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line so great is the constant communication the players do among themselves.

“Kuraly’s line to a certain extent has done that, it’s just in a different fashion,” said Cassidy. “They’re a different animal, but they do communicate in how they want to play and I think it shows that they have coordination in their game.”

The line, Kuraly concedes, has not hit on all cylinders yet. Part of it is due to the fact that Nordstrom has missed five of the nine games with a couple of injuries, though he seems to be inching closer to a return, possibly on Saturday against the Blues.

“It’s a simple game, but it’s simple and it’s fast and I think a little different than some of the simple games in the past where you’d have a line that just chips and run guys,” said Kuraly, averaging 15:01 in ice time this year, more than two minutes above his career average. “I don’t think that’s really us. I don’t think we try and chase hits. Nordy helps us with that speed, he’s on the forecheck. We try to have a three-man forecheck, so if they’re disciplined enough to bring three guys back to the puck, we’re working just as hard to get up and try and disrupt that. When Nordy’s back, it brings us closer to that identity of a simple, hard game but also a little bit of … I don’t want to say skill, but we want to make plays, too. Everyone that’s playing in the NHL is expected to contribute. That’s definitely on our minds.”

Kuraly, the driver of the line, also expects a bit more from himself. He admittedly had a rough night in Toronto last Saturday – he can put those games in the rear-view mirror more quickly now, but he still doesn’t want them happening – and he’s yet still looking for his first goal, as is Wagner. But starting slowly is nothing new for Kuraly. He’s got a growing reputation as a playoff performer. In fact, you could argue that the Bruins would not have gotten past Toronto in Round 1 last year had he not returned late in the series from a broken thumb.

There are worse things to be known as than a money player, but Kuraly still wouldn’t mind a little more production sooner rather than later.

“It’s something I’m trying to figure out,” said Kuraly, who has three assists. “Does the game get a little different as the year goes on? Is it us that has to figure out each other? It’s an interesting question about why it works so well at the end of the year and in the playoffs. It’s been a couple of years now and when I look back on it, it’s taken a little while to get rolling. It’s frustrating, though I think every year we’re a little ahead of where the previous year was. But I don’t know what the reason is for it. Is it personal? You come into a new year and are you too fresh, are you thinking about too much and not just playing? It’s an interesting question.”

But despite the relatively slow start, this “fourth line” remains a reliable commodity.

Comments are not available on this story.