BOSTON -- Shawn Thornton shrugged his shoulders a bit when asked if he was upset about being a healthy scratch Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins enforcer missed two games earlier this season with a concussion suffered in a hockey fight, and he missed his third when he was when Claude Julien inserted 38-year-old Jay Pandolfo into the lineup against the Bolts.
Thornton obviously always wants to play and prides himself on being a solid two-way player that can be used by the coaching staff in important situations during a game. Getting scratched is never a reason for cartwheels or high-fives, and especially so when a player holds a minus-4 rating on the season while averaging 6:18 of ice time in 15 games.
But Thornton put all of those feelings into his back pocket, and instead remained the ultimate team guy while speaking in terms of Boston's comeback win rather than his own personal situation.
“Whatever. We won. That’s the most important thing…it really is,” said Thornton, who hasn’t fought in the eight games since returning from his concussion. “I don’t know the reasons behind it, so I can’t really speculate on it one way or the other.”
Julien said he hadn’t discussed the decision with Thornton other than giving him notice when he first arrived at the rink for Saturday’s matinee, and that it wasn’t something he really felt the need to do. The obvious upside for swapping Pandolfo in for Thornton is to get an extra penalty killing hand, and that probably helped on Saturday as Tampa Bay was awarded eight power plays.
Gregory Campbell and Adam McQuaid also both dropped the gloves against Lightning players, and filled the toughness bill with their intimidating enforcer watching from the ninth floor of the TD Garden press box. It’s the same role that Thornton has filled at points in each of Boston’s last two playoff runs as the Bruins coaching staff opted for more versatility or offense.
Thornton was last scratched in Game 7 of their first round playoff loss to the Washington Capitals last April.
“There are no issues with Shawn. He’s always been a team-first guy," Julien said. "We move guys around and we’re still team tough. There were other guys that stepped up like they did yesterday. There are things like that in a tight schedule that you’re probably going to see more and more of as we move forward.
“You don’t want to baby players. A lot of guys like Shawn know exactly what’s going on and he’s always had a great attitude about it. I told him when he got to the rink that I was contemplating a change, but wasn’t going to be sure until after the warm-up. You don’t watch to catch a veteran guy at the last minute, but I don’t have to get into explanations. I don’t have time for that. Guys know how we operate around here.”
But there’s also no denying that the Bruins can suffer from an emotional downgrade without their tough guy in the lineup, and that seemed to be the case early in Saturday’s game before McQuaid’s bout helped snap them out of it.
It remains to be seen how long the Bruins will need to get by without one of their spiritual leaders on the ice in Thornton.