Thornton's punches don't spark Bruins
BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins may have won the fight, but they definitely lost the battle.
There was so much hype leading to Thursday night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins because the Bruins wanted to accomplish two things. First and foremost, Boston wanted, and needed, a victory. Second, the Bruins wanted to defend the honor of teammate Marc Savard, who was the recipient of a blindside hit by the Penguins' Matt Cooke on March 7 in Pittsburgh. Cooke did not receive a penalty, or a suspension, for the hit so the Bruins wanted to take matters into their own hands.
Even with NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell at the Garden, the Bruins dealt with Cooke the proper way. As soon as he stepped onto the ice for his first shift at 1:58 of the first period, Bruins pugilist Shawn Thornton bumped Cooke and the two dropped the gloves and went at it. Thornton connected on a few shots, and when the two fell to the ice and the linesmen jumped in to break it up, Thornton kept throwing punches and received an extra 10-minute misconduct. The fight was won, and the 17,565 in attendance were pleased.
The battle, however, was lost.
Boston gained no momentum from Thornton's handiwork and the Bruins were on the receiving end of a 3-0 loss to the Penguins. The cheers by the hometown fans for Thornton had turned to boos by the final seconds of the game.
"Somehow we deserve it," said Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who finished with 28 saves. "It's understandable. If I were a fan, I would have done the same."
In the locker room after the deflating loss, each and every player knew this should have been the proverbial statement game, but instead it turned sour even though Thornton did what his teammates and the fans were expecting in terms of dealing with Cooke.
"That's my job and I wanted to make the point to try to get the guys going," Thornton said. "The fact is that we didn't bring the energy we needed right after that spark, and it's not the first time it's happened this year and it's definitely disappointing. It wasn't the emotion level we needed for a win."
If anything, the Penguins were the ones who got a boost from the scrap. Bruins coach Claude Julien said he didn't believe that to be true, but Thornton agreed that Pittsburgh completely took it to the Bruins after the fight.
"Throughout the whole game we didn't show enough emotion," Thornton said.
Right from the get-go, the Bruins weren't getting the bounces they were hoping for as they heard the sound of pucks ringing off the post instead of watching the lamp light up. But the Bruins can't expect to win when they produce only five shots in the first period, another five shots in the second period and end with just seven in the final 20 minutes. Boston was outshot 31-17; it was only the second time this season the Bruins have been held to fewer than 20 shots in a game (16 versus the Wild on Nov. 25).
"We need to do a better job creating more, for sure," Milan Lucic said. "Thorny took care of business right off the hop and it was good for him to step up and do what he needed to do. At the end of the year, what are people going to remember more? That we had a beatdown on the Pittsburgh Penguins and Matt Cooke? Or if we get into the playoffs or not? I think it's more disappointing in the way that we played and we weren't able to get results."
It was a bit ironic that the Bruins' 1970 Stanley Cup championship team celebrated its 40th anniversary and was honored prior to the game, with the likes of Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Fred Stanfield and Derek Sanderson on the ice. That team was known for its all-around play and toughness. Today's generation was a letdown.
"It was an important day for the organization," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "We wanted a win for them and for us. But we got outskated, outworked and that's how it ended."
Trailing 1-0 in the second period, the Bruins were lifeless until Chara dropped the gloves with the Penguins' Mike Rupp at 11:43. The captain looked at his bench and said something before skating to the penalty box. The scrum didn't really serve to jump-start the Bruins because defenseman Mark Stuart was called for hooking 17 seconds later.
"Instead of feeding off it, we had to kill a penalty, which didn't help," Julien said. "It certainly wasn't the kind of game we wanted to play tonight. We talked about it this morning at length about how important a win was for our hockey club, and we didn't come up with it."
Julien wasn't about to make any excuses, but he did place some of the blame for the lackluster effort on the fact some of the Bruins have the flu. Defenseman Dennis Wideman and forward Blake Wheeler missed the morning skate, but were in the lineup. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk also missed the skate and did not play. Forward Marco Sturm played a total of 11 minutes before leaving the game after only 14 shifts.
"I'm being honest here, looking at guys coming to the bench and they were pale and exhausted after 30 seconds," Julien said. "You could see they were trying to push through it. I think there were still some healthy guys who could have played better -- no doubt."
After the game, the players weren't ready to point fingers at one another, but it was clear there was some dissatisfaction as a group.
"It seems like we don't have all the guys on board right now," Lucic said. "But when we do, and we have that mindset, we're capable of anything."
With Savard likely gone for the remainder of the season, the Bruins will have to find a way to regroup in order to earn a postseason berth. Julien and his players believe this club can do it even without the playmaking Savard. When asked after the game if he was satisfied with the way the team handled the Cooke situation, Julien said he was still displeased with the impact Savard's absence will have on the Bruins.
"I don't think you can ever be satisfied because you've lost your top goal scorer for the rest of the year," Julien said. "How can you be satisfied? We beat them up, but we still don't have our top goal scorer, so I don't think there's anything that's going to make things right. Losing him will never make it right."
On a positive note, the New York Rangers also lost, so the Bruins' lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference remained three points. The Atlanta Thrashers won and are tied with the Rangers with 71 points.
The Bruins face the Rangers on Sunday afternoon and the Thrashers on Tuesday, so they better recover quickly.
"We're still in the playoff picture and that's a positive," Thornton said. "I would have liked the two points a lot more than anything else tonight, but that didn't happen."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.