Thornton/By S. Bradley

WILMINGTON, Mass. – Maybe Bruins forwards Brad Marchand, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton should’ve just stuck with the name “Energy Line” or accepted their status as the club’s fourth line.

It seems that neither the officials nor the hockey gods have much of a taste for the “Merlot Line.”

That trio, dubbed the “Merlot Line” because of the usual color of their practice jerseys and the color of their newly purchased jackets, has combined for a plus rating all season long. But the last two nights, in losses at Buffalo and Montreal, the threesome was on the ice for one even-strength goal each. Marchand and Campbell were even out there for a second even-strength goal by the Canadiens last night.

“I think I can speak for the three of us, that’s not acceptable for us,” said Campbell today after the Bruins held meetings and off-ice workouts at Ristuccia Arena. “We don’t want to be on for goals, important goals, especially late in the game like in Buffalo. I thought we played a really strong game in Buffalo, actually. Sometimes that happens. Things go either way.

“And then the second shift last night. I thought we had a pretty good opening shift in Montreal and then the second shift they got one. I don’t think we can get discouraged. I know I watched the game and I know Marchy and Thornty watched our shifts, and I think we just have to keep working and keep improving and keep getting better and keep expecting more of ourselves.”

Prior to this two-game slump, none of the three brothers in Merlot had ever registered more than a minus-1 in a game. Marchand and Campbell hadn’t even suffered a minus since Nov. 28 (six games), while Thornton hadn’t been a minus since Nov. 3 (19 games). As a model of consistency, Thornton has never been more than minus-1 or plus-1 in a game, while Marchand and Campbell both have one plus-2 this season. I’m not one to drool over plus/minus rating, but when you’re getting the type of even-strength ice time Marchand, Campbell and Thornton get, it can be a telling stat.

It’s a stat that possibly might not have turned negative lately for Boston’s rugged trio had a couple breaks gone their way.

In Buffalo, all three logged around 12 minutes of ice time and fired four shots on net apiece. All they had to show for it when the night was a Drew Stafford even-strength goal against after Thornton lost Derek Roy crossing the blue line – a mistake Thornton owned up to. But then there was also the controversial goaltender-interference call on Thornton, who was in the box for Stafford’s game-winning goal. The call not only put the Bruins on the penalty kill, but negated a Marchand goal.

Against the Habs, it was a different story for Boston’s lunch-pail line. All three players admitted today they just couldn’t rev their motors enough against the Habs. It didn’t help that the linesman chased Campbell away from the faceoff dot leading up to the goal Maxim Lapierre scored with the “Merlot Line” all on the ice. Nor were Boston’s fourth-liners’ efforts aided when Campbell was docked two minutes for roughing after he went to the defense of Marchand for a hit by P.K. Subban.

“I’m not usually one to criticize the referees. Usually it is what it is,” said Campbell. “But that one, I could’ve dropped my gloves right away and jumped him. I intentionally didn’t do that. It was a clean hit, but it was something where you want to send a message as a teammate. And so I went and asked him to fight. I felt I got the short end of the stick there, and I didn’t really do much to deserve a two-minute roughing. At the end of the day, maybe I should’ve taken an instigator. It would’ve been the same result.”

Thornton was rankled by that call as well.

“I thought [Campbell] got elbowed and slew-footed and ended up with a two-minute roughing penalty out of it,” said Thornton. “Last time I checked, you’re able to ask people to fight. That’s not against the rules. But whatever.”

With the officiating the only thing Marchand, Campbell and Thornton cant’ control, it’s refreshing to hear them take responsibility for their rough outing and talk about working even harder to avoid down nights the morning after a difficult loss. Head coach Claude Julien plans to have the “Merlot Line” continue to make its presence felt.

“I guess over the course of a season, you can’t expect perfection,” said Julien. “But they’ve been a good line for us and maybe it’s been a little bit of a struggle for them the last couple games. But I still have a lot of confidence in them and they’re still a line that when you need some energy and you need some momentum changes that go into your favor, they’re a line that you can count on a lot.”

From the sound of it, a couple nights filled with bad breaks and minus ratings won’t get Marchand, Campbell and Thornton down, so there should be some evening filled with the on-ice equivalent of wine and roses in the “Merlot Line’s” future.