BOSTON (CBS) – It took Shawn Thornton until the Boston Bruins seventh game to drop the gloves.
“I wasn’t hitting the panic button like you guys,” the veteran Boston forward said after the win over Toronto Thursday night. “I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to go all 82 without one.”
In reality, everyone knew that. It was worrisome though to see the Bruins inconsistently sputter out to a 2-4-0 start to the season while Thornton had invitation after invitation to fight turned away like a pocket-protector wearer trying to get a dance at the prom.
Finally, Toronto’s Colton Orr obliged Thornton just 1:54 into Thursday night’s game. It came at a fortunate time for the Bruins, who needed a spark, even if it wasn’t that fortunate for Thornton, who had to exchange blows with a player who’s his equal in toughness and strength.
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“You’re under the assumption that I love being punched in the face,” Thornton quipped when asked about his several unrequited attempts to fight. “If the team needs it, I have no problem doing it. But it might’ve been able to get us going and turn things the other way. There was a few times, I guess, in the first six games that I felt the same way and I couldn’t find somebody. But that happens through the course of the season.”
The Bruins reeled off six unanswered goals over the course of three periods after Thornton and Orr headed to the box. It’s easy to over-credit Thornton’s facial sacrifice for the shift in momentum, but you do need to grant one of the Bruins’ most vocal and emotional leaders his due for not letting a winnable game swirl down the toilet of mediocrity without doing something about it.
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This is why the Bruins imported Thornton as a free agent in the summer of 2008 and why he’s not only stuck around but emerged as one of the team’s most popular and reliable (at both ends of the rink) players. NESN senior associate producer Pat White researched the stat that proves it – the Bruins are 33-10-8 in games when Thornton earns a fighting major. Over that span, no one has been too big, too tough or too crazy for the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Thornton to answer the bell.
“It seemed like it got us into it, it got the crowd into it and it created the energy in the building tonight,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic about the Thornton’s fight with Orr, although he could’ve been talking about any of Thornton’s fights over the years. “You can’t say enough of what he brings to this hockey club and it was good that he was able to get us going when we really needed it.”
Stats: Bruins-Leafs Box Score
The Bruins have gotten used to having Thornton around to get them going. There’s never any need to hit the “panic button” when they know that sooner or later Thornton is going to hit someone to aid the cause.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operates TheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.