Marchand/By S. Bradley

To those that just concentrate on the negative when it comes to the Bruins, Jan. 8, 2011 is known only as the night the team blew a late 2-0 lead and dropped a 3-2 overtime decision at Montreal.

However, the Bruins are now 6-2-0 since that nightmarish finish, and that evening might now be more famous for being the night an important line combination became a permanent fixture in Boston’s lineup.

Although they’d played together sparingly before, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi have not been broken up since reuniting on a full-time basis against the Habs. Even that night, Bergeron scored twice and that trio would’ve been three of the stars of the game had the Bruins not pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.

Today in a 6-2 win at Colorado, the ninth game together for that threesome, they were clearly head and shoulders above the rest. Marchand posted his first two-goal and four-point NHL game, while Bergeron recorded a goal and two assists, and Recchi registered three points (one goal).

When you include today’s stats and go back as far as the Montreal defeat, the numbers for Bergeron and his linemates are remarkable. The center has posted 8-6-14 totals and a plus-13 rating in nine contests, while Recchi, who’s just days shy of his 43rd birthday, has posted 3-6-9 totals and a plus-9 rating. And Marchand has produced 6-4-10 and plus-13.

Technically, the Bruins don’t have a first line as long as Nathan Horton is in the slump of the century, Marc Savard is still shaking off the rust from injury absence (and his now injured again) and Milan Lucic (two goals today) is still looking to score as consistently now as he was doing it at the start of the season. Don’t tell Bergeron’s trio, though, that they’re supposed to be something of a checking line.

It’s hard to believe that Bergeron and Recchi started this season on separate lines. They’d been connected at the hip since Recchi’s arrival at the trade deadline in ’09 and enjoyed enduring chemistry with a revolving door of opposite wings for Recchi (who’s willing to play both sides). Once head coach Claude Julien reunited Recchi and Bergeron, they skated with Jordan Caron, Blake Wheeler, Tyler Seguin and even Marchand for short stretches, but seemed just shy of recapturing their magic of previous seasons. And then along came that game in Montreal.

At first glance, Marchand might’ve seemed like an unlikely third wheel on the Bergeron-Recchi line. The since-traded Marco Sturm, a perennial 20-plus-goal scorer in the NHL, had been the best-suited player to skate on that coveted left wing. Although that line is regularly assigned to stop opposing top lines, it needs someone with the ability to complement defensive instincts and speed with decent scoring hands and a finishing touch to really reach its potential. Marchand, a rookie who had to fight for a job in training camp, had been a decent scorer in junior hockey but registered just 18 goals in 79 games in his one full season with the Providence (AHL) farm club. In 20 NHL games last season – some alongside Bergeron and Recchi – he failed to score.

This season, after making the NHL roster, Marchand thrived on the “Merlot Line” next to Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. On most nights, that line was Boston’s best at maintaining an attack. If Julien had left those three players together all season, no one would’ve questioned it. Injuries to Horton and Lucic a couple weeks ago forced a line shuffle that landed Marchand skating higher up the depth chart than his “Merlot” buddies.

Marchand’s play with Bergeron and Recchi, and the production that trio has produced, has been so amazing, it’s not likely this new trio will be broken up any time soon. All that’s left is to find this line a name. Maybe “The Young and the Recchi.” Or “The Old and Not So Beautiful.” Perhaps we should just refer to them as the top line.

Regardless, if they keep playing this way the Bruins and their fans will be able to look back at Jan. 8 with some fondness, for that was the night Marchand established himself as the perfect left wing for Bergeron and Recchi.