Thornton snaps goal drought to help kick-start offense

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Thornton snaps goal drought to help kick-start offense

Judging by the exuberant fist pump after he scored Bostons first goal, Shawn Thornton probably knew exactly how many games it had been.

The Bs enforcer snapped a 35-game goal-scoring drought when he shoveled home the rebound of a Zdeno Chara rush to the net, and helped his Bruins to a solid 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lighting at TD Garden. The first two periods of play featured some of the best shifts that the Bs fourth line has had in recent memory, and Thorntons strike was the culmination of all that.

Thornton credited much of it to Claude Julien going a little light with the shifts for the Bs energy line during the road games in Los Angeles and Anaheim, and it gave them the extra go while the other Bs lines got their bearings. The fourth line also takes on a different personality with Jordan Caron playing in place of the scratched Daniel Paille: the forward group becomes stronger around the net and on the boards with plenty of battles on tap all over the ice.

We had good legs tonight. We felt good. I think my two linemates played pretty well, strong on pucks, said Thornton. We got some opportunities, probably should have been rewarded a little bit more than that one goal. But were happy to chip in.

Thornton had five shots on net when the game was over, but the Bs tough guy could have easily had his first career hat trick with a little luck and a better breakaway bid. Thornton broke up a defenseman-to-defenseman feed telegraphed near the blue line, and broke in all alone on Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson.

Instead of going forehand-to-backhand like he memorably did in a win over the Winnipeg Jets earlier this season and what was actually the last goal he scored prior to Tuesday night he attempted to fling a forehand shot high over Rolosons glove hand. Instead the goaltender knocked it away and then gobbled up a Thornton rebound bid off an initial shot from Gregory Campbell.

Ive known Thorty for a while. Hes a great person on and off the ice, said Roloson. I was just trying to take well, he had some pressure from behind so I figured he was going to shoot it so I was just trying to take away his options.

Roloson was victorious on that particular battle, but Thornton and the fourth line won the war on a night when all of Bostons diverse offensive weapons proved ready to strike. In so many ways the Bs fourth line is a barometer for their overall success, and a productive stretch from Thornton and Co. is exactly what is needed with the playoffs around the corner.

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

When trying to figure out what the Patriots will ultimately do with Jimmy Garoppolo, forget about the speculation and instead focus on the little things the team does. 

Like how they are tending to Jacoby Brissett. 

After having thumb surgery on Oct. 7, Brissett was put on IR. But the team used its one "Get off of IR free card" on Brissett and he's been practicing with the team for the past couple of weeks while not taking up a roster spot. 

That alone isn't compelling evidence that he's the backup-in-waiting and Garoppolo's about to be packed up and shipped out, argued my compadre, Senator Phil Perry. The team had no other players on IR that they could use the designation on at the time. Why not use it on Brissett?

Prior to that, though, we've seen Brissett accompanying the team to away games including the cross-country junket to San Francisco. A reason? Since the Patriots played three straight at Gillette at the start of the season when Brissett was the direct backup to Garoppolo, he didn't get a good look at the road operation and the tempo of being the visiting team. How things work on flights, in meetings, at opposing stadiums and on the sidelines is worth getting a promising young players' eyes on. Also, getting his offensive teammates used to having him around is probably an even bigger benefit. It's not unprecedented to have IR players travel but its not conventional practice either. 

With so many quarterback-needy teams around the league, Garoppolo is perhaps the most attractive option out there. By the end of this year, he will have apprenticed three seasons behind the best quarterback of all-time in a sophisticated offense for a program that's as demanding as any in the league. In the 10 quarters he was able to play as a starter in place of Tom Brady, he was sensational.

He got hurt and that's not great. But any team making a deal for him that has concerns about his durability can take him for a spin for one season. Garoppolo is on the books for $825K in 2017 and then his contract is up. The team that dealt for him can franchise him if they need another season to think on it. 

I don't think the Patriots are itching to move Garoppolo. They know they are sitting comfortably with a stack of the most valuable commodity in the sport -- good quarterbacks (or at least one great one and two promising ones) - piled in front of them. They can let the game come to them. 

If it does, as former Patriots executive and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi thinks it will, the Patriots can rest easy dealing Garoppolo knowing that they already did advance work getting Brissett up to speed.