By Ric Duarte, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — I love hockey. It’s a beautiful sport to watch and I find myself still playing it three times a week.

I hate what my sport became Saturday night at the TD Garden.

The Bruins hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins and from the start of the game, things were, shall we say, not right. Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik knocked Boston’s Loui Eriksson out of the game 13 seconds into play, and there was no penalty called on the play. Earlier this season, Eriksson was concussed by Buffalo Sabres meathead John Scott, and when Orpik plowed his shoulder into Loui’s head, it was no contest.

The Bruins resident tough guy, Shawn Thornton, immediately tried to engage Orpik in a retaliatory fight. Orpik would not and did not drop the gloves and play continued. Things would get very nasty and dangerous very soon.  At the 11:06 mark, after a no-call on what should have been a Sidney Crosby tripping penalty on Brad Marchand, James Neal did a fly-by knee to Marchand’s head as the B’s forward was prone, looking up the ice. The ref was calling a penalty but play continued into the Penguin end of the ice where a scrum ensued, and this is where more ugliness happened.

With Orpik part of the scrum, Thornton came from behind and slew-footed him down to the ice and then proceeded to punch him in the face twice while Orpik was on his back on the ice. Orpik was knocked unconscious and was taken off the ice on a stretcher and to Massachusetts General Hospital. Thornton was given a match penalty which carries a game misconduct and an automatic suspension by the National Hockey League, to be determined by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. The guess here is that Thornton will sit for at least five games, maybe more.

Vigilante justice in a league that has come under fire recently for allowing fighting and many players going down with head injuries is not going to be tolerated. James Neal should also face Mr. Shanahan for his dirty work as well.

Last night’s ugliness spurred a bunch of emotions from opponents of fighting, proponents, and the apathetic. Proponents think that if Orpik had engaged Thornton initially after the Eriksson hit, all would have been settled right then and there. They would have fought, message sent, code not broken, game continues (hopefully) without further incident. But that did not happen and Thornton, the atypical “goon,” not only broke the code — he smashed it and rewrote it, attacking the defenseless player.

Opponents say there should never be fighting allowed in the NHL, calling it barbaric and claiming it has been the cause of many head injuries, rumored to have been the cause of death for some players. Recently, a lawsuit has been filed against the league with those claims.

For his part, Thornton took full responsibility for his actions, saying, “It’s always my job to defend my teammates. I’ve prided myself for a long time to stay within the lines. It’s hard for me to talk about it right now. I can’t say I’m sorry enough. I’m sure I’ll be criticized for saying it, but it’s true. I hope he’s doing all right. I heard he’s conscious and talking. I’m happy to hear that.”

Over the years, respect in the National Hockey League has gone the way of the dodo bird. It used to be that if someone gave a good hit, or even an illegal hit, you’d bide your time and eventually things would even out. Hockey is a contact sport and so many players do not like to be hit and when that hit comes, said player immediately wants to fight. That is not the way it was and shouldn’t be now. Unfortunately it is and has been for a while and unless the league and its players change their ways, it will remain.

Oh yeah, the hockey game. After having two first-period leads on goals by Chris Kunitz and the aforementioned James Neal, sandwiched around the Bruins’ Reilly Smith goal, Boston trailed late in the the third 2-1. They pulled goaltender Tuukka Rask and David Krejci took a pass from Milan Lucic from behind the net and beat Marc-Andre Fluery to tie the game with a minute and a half left. Patrice Bergeron  would later win a defensive zone faceoff against Sidney Crosby and Boston would make it to the Penguins end and set up their captain in the high slot, where he wristed a hard shot just over the glove of Fleury for the late 3-2 comeback win.

Boston will face the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Sunday, while Shawn Thornton will be facing some major discipline from the league.

Ric Duarte has covered hockey and the Bruins for various media outlets since 1986. You can follow Ric at and on Twitter @bruins_diehard.

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