WILMINGTON The biggest surprise for the Bruins in the Game 6 victory over the Capitals had to have been the inspiring play of injured center Patrice Bergeron.
But second place has to belong to Claude Julien scratching Bs enforcer Shawn Thornton to make room in the lineup for 21-year-old rookie Jordan Caron on the fourth line.
Thornton had nearly triggered a stirring comeback in Game 5: a pair of physical shifts including one bowling over Matt Hendricks and repeatedly challenging John Erskine helped swing the games momentum into a two-goal outburst for the Black and Gold.
But instead Thornton found himself in a suit eating popcorn and watching Game 6 at the Verizon Center for a couple of different reasons.
The Bruins were clearly looking for offensive spark and a little more finish right around the net a couple of areas where Caron has been a big help down the stretch of the regular season with 10 of his 15 regular season points coming in March and April. But Julien also needed a player on the fourth line that could potentially move up into a top-six forward spot if Bergeron exited the game quickly.
Instead Bergeron played close to 19 minutes of ice time and Caron registered a shot on goal in 4:56 of ice time in the Game 6 victory. So Thornton could very well be in the mix again for Game 7 after Bergeron came through perfectly on Sunday afternoon, but the Bs tough guy said he understood either way.
Nobody wants to be a healthy scratch, but at this time of year its about the bigger picture. Its about whatever it takes to get the win, said Thornton. We got the win to get us to Game 7 and thats all that matters.
Thornton was all caffeinated up and ready to go after his half-dozen cups of coffee just prior to Game 6, and was totally surprised when Julien gave him the bad news. But the Bs tough guy said hed gladly go through that exact same routine again if it meant his hockey club was advancing to the next round.
Claude and I talked about it yesterday. We had a good chat. It was what was best and I was extremely okay with it. I think people are a little surprised at how okay I was with it, said Thornton. I get scratched every year in the playoffs, so its nothing new. You could probably take my quotes from each of the last four years during the playoffs and use them instead. Its the same thing. Obviously I want to play, but its not about me at this time of year.
Having a team player as the guy that gets the playing time shaft in the playoffs is obviously the ideal situation for a hockey coach, and Julien appreciated that Thornton made a difficult decision just a little easier.
Thats what Shawn is all about and thats why hes always been appreciated. We appreciate him as a player first and foremost and as a person, but what he does when he drops the gloves is something that is part of his strength, said Julien. Sometimes a coach has to make decisions, its nothing personal, its nothing about the player its what we need for this certain game and thats all it was.
He understands that stuff; hes been through it many times, even before he came here. Hes all about the team and whatever we need to do hes going to support us. Hes as happy today as he was the day before he got pulled out of the lineup.
And Thornton will probably be even happier if his No. 22 gets called for Wednesday nights Game 7 with his hard-nosed intensity and infectious swagger always useful in do-or-die hockey scenarios.