Bruins spring back to life

BOSTON -- Even before the opening faceoff between the Boston Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night at TD Garden, the respective teams' pugilists were jawing at one another.

As soon as the puck was dropped, so went the gloves.

The Bruins' Shawn Thornton and the Thrashers' Eric Boulton went toe-to-toe at center ice and produced a spirited bout. It was one that Boston desperately needed to set the tone of the game.

The Bruins have been lackluster of late and they needed some sort of revival. The defibrillators in Thornton's hands did the job.

Boston was reborn in a 4-1 victory over the Thrashers that featured just about everything the fans could have asked for. In fact, it ended the way it began -- with fisticuffs.

Thornton scored twice, his second career two-goal game, and now has a career high seven tallies on the season to help Boston to victory. The Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (shorthanded goal) and Michael Ryder (power-play goal) also scored as goalie Tim Thomas made 26 saves. The Bruins also registered a total of 66 minutes in penalties.

"I'm pretty sure we're aware that's how we have to play if we're going to be successful," Thornton said. "There was passion. Everyone was involved emotionally and that's what we need every night if this team is going to be successful. We're not built to float around out there. We're built to play gritty hockey, which is what this town loves, too. I'm sure we're aware of it now, too."

The last time the Bruins played a similar type of game was on Nov. 1, 2008 against the Dallas Stars on home ice. Prior to that game, Boston was 5-3-3 on the season. After a 5-1 win over the Stars that featured a total of 77 minutes in penalties for the Bruins, Boston improved to 29-5-4 over the next 27 games.

That game was so significant for the Black and Gold that many Bruins players compared it to Thursday's game.

"I think that we have a really tough team," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. "But we also have a team that cares about each other, and if something goes down, I think everybody feels pretty comfortable with whoever is on the ice that the closest guy will come to your aid -- whether people like that or not in hockey, it's going to happen."

At a time when the scuttlebutt around town is about making personnel changes to the Bruins, the team responded the way the entire organization was hoping it would.

General manager Peter Chiarelli went on record this week saying he has all the confidence in his coaching staff, and the players responded in their own way, too.

"Those situations always bond and bring teams even closer together," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "It's a good feeling when you can rely on each other in situations like this. There is nothing better than that."

After a devastating 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday at the Garden, Bruins coach Claude Julien conducted a pair of intense practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. He did not want a repeat performance. Instead, the Bruins took what they did in practice and carried it into Thursday's game.

They battled. They competed. They didn't put up with any shenanigans. Boston played a complete game from start to finish, and in the end the Bruins were rewarded for their efforts.

"We really worked hard on competing [in practice] and getting some emotion in our game," Julien said. "There were three or four instances where guys kind of shoved each other, but at the end of practice they really felt good about the practices. Believe it or not, it ended up being fun."

It also proved a direct result in Thursday's victory. It was the type of game with the beginning and end results that the Bruins were desperately looking for, and Boston proved it still has life.

But it's only one game.

"It was a game where the guys competed well and competed for 60 minutes. It's basically what we needed right now to hopefully turn things around," Julien said. "Now we have a chance to bottle that up and take it on the road with us."

The Bruins have a two-day Christmas break before returning to practice on Sunday in preparation for their five-game road trip.

"We have a lot to be happy about going into the Christmas break, but it definitely wasn't easy," Lucic said. "But we are definitely happy with the way we played."

They should be.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.