This isnt about Shawn Thornton.
This isnt about John Scott.
Its not even about Zdeno Charas willingness to step up when one of the true fellow giants in the NHL decided to inflict some damage on the Boston Bruins.
The 7-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night was about a divisional rival and hated enemy waltzing into the TD Garden and basically announcing that they were going to set the tone for the series this year.
Thornton did his job and stepped up to the gusty task that he takes full pride in: protecting his Bs teammates from getting the same kind of blood sport treatment that he accepts and doles out as a trained fighter.
Thornton is a player that has had every single of his teammates backs over the last six years as a member of the Black and Gold, and even before that while working his way up through the Chicago and Anaheim organizations.
So Thornton took it upon himself to tussle with 6-foot-8, 270-pound Scott at least six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier on the scale than Bostons tough guy and got pounded down to the ice with a right handed punch to the side of the head and a finishing upper-cut blast.
Hes a guy who does everything for his teammates and his team, done it very well. Unfortunately theres always a risk in that job, said Claude Julien. He took on a pretty big man, as we all know 6-foot-8 and around 280 pounds. He handled himself as best as he could, but those things are going to happen.
At the end of the day, he still was willing to do it for his team. Not only do we lose a guy to a concussion that does it well, but hes a good teammate and hes great in the dressing room. Hopefully we get him back soon.
It was shocking to watch because Thornton normally wins every one of his fights, but this was like watching the hockey version of a hammer and nail play out on the Garden ice. Theres a very good chance that the Bruins enforcer knew this is the way it was going to go if Scott got the upper hand early, and it didnt turn into a grappling match as Thorntons fight with the equally massive Derek Boogaard turned out a few seasons earlier.
The upper-cut caused the Bs enforcers legs to buckle on his way down to the ice and had him inquisitively asking arena officials if hed just been in a fight when he was finally directed to the Bruins penalty box.
Its a difficult way to make a living, but its the one Thornton has chosen where hes risen to the top ranks of his profession while winning a pair of Stanley Cups. But there are times when even the mighty fall down and need a little help from their friends as they stagger back to their feet. Sometimes a player like Thornton needs other Bruins players to have his back as much as hes got theirs, and it seems that was a missed opportunity in the aftermath of the ScottThornton tilt.
It might not have changed the outcome of a game they lost to a pumped Sabres bunch, and it might have even put the 6-foot-9 Chara in harm's way against a player every bit as mammoth as him in Scott. But theres also a point, at least in this hockey writers opinion, where Chara needs to step in as the team captain and the most feared player in the league and tell Thornton that his back is covered.
There are times when the fear of injury or the potential downside of spending a five-minute major in the penalty box isnt the point. There comes a time when its about sending a message about the way the Bruins do business, and making an example of a team thats looking to punk them.
Thats what the Sabres arrived in Boston looking to do, and thats the mission they accomplished.
Instead, Thornton was downed early in the first period, and Buffalo felt they had a green light to take liberties with the Bruins over the course of 60 very uncharacteristic minutes for the Black and Gold.
Chara looked distracted in one of the worst games of his NHL career, and finished with a minus-3, zero hits and turnovers made all over the ice. For the NHLs most intimidating player in a hated rivalry game, it appeared almost as if he spent the rest of the game running through his mind what he should have done rather than doing nothing at all.
When asked by CSNNE.com whether hed considered going after Scott once hed bested Thornton, Chara didnt really address the question while leaving the door open for what could be done Feb. 10 in Buffalo.
Right now were getting (ready) for the next game, which is Toronto, said Chara. Those questions about John Scott you guys should save for when we play Buffalo.
Scott hopped out on another shift in the first period after the decisive win and elbowed Rich Peverley in the head right in front of the Bruins bench for good measure.
Scott was whistled for the elbowing infraction, but it was pretty clear the 6-foot-8 monster felt free to do whatever he wanted on the ice after his fists of fury in the third period. Daniel Paille and Patrice Bergeron both got dinged up in the hard-fought defeat, and now Paille is out as well after catching a high-stick late in the third period. Drew Stafford felt free to throw an elbow at the head of 19-year-old rookie Dougie Hamilton that forced the youngster off the ice for a few minutes.
But luckily there was no permanent harm done, and the promising young defenseman was able to joke about it the next day after finishing out Thursdays game.
The final punch to the Bs gut was the Lindy Ruff timeout with 13.6 seconds left after he took Lane MacDermids presence on the ice as a message that the Bruins were headhunting. Never mind that third period message-sending has never been a trait of a Claude Julien-coached team, or that its basically been purged from the league because of automatic suspensions and hefty fines when it comes in the last few minutes of the third period.
It was instead about Ruff and by extension his Sabres players giving one last middle finger to the Bruins players and their coaching staff before getting back on a plane to Buffalo with a sense they accomplished their mission.
The message was clear from the Sabres after the game was over and the Bruins had been beaten: they came into Boston intent on making a point to the Bruins after the Milan LucicRyan Miller incident created some tension within the Buffalo dressing room and ostensibly sidetracked their entire season.
Scott admitted as much after the game.
Obviously going into this game there was a lot of hype around what happened last year with Miller and Lucic, said Scott. So I kind of just wanted to set the tone.
Regardless of the outcome I just want to be there for my teammates and let them know Im here to fight, Ive got your backlast years not going to happen like this year.
As previously stated, this isnt about one lost fight between two tough guys and the relative fairness of a massive human being throwing fists with a merely extra-large human being. Just as the LucicMiller collision was about much more than a forward skating into a goaltender last season for the Sabres, Buffalos fulfilled intentions of belting the Bruins straight across the face in their own barn Thursday night takes on bigger meaning for both hockey clubs.
Nobody is questioning the heart or toughness of a Bruins nucleus that memorably won a Stanley Cup two years ago, and the hope is that this is simply a blip on the radar screen of a crazy 48-game regular season.
But now everyone, including Shawn Thornton at home in Charlestown recovering from a dreaded concussion, waits to see when the Bruins will actually respond to Thursday in a way that's consistent with putting on the Spoked B Bruins sweater.