Thornton gladly takes one for the team

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Thornton gladly takes one for the team

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.

Morning Skate: Brian Boyle embroiled in trade rumors

Morning Skate: Brian Boyle embroiled in trade rumors

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while enjoying Hockey Day in America. 

*Brian Boyle is the subject of trade rumors with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he wants to stay a member of the Bolts. 

*Watch out for the Florida Panthers, who swept the road trip through California and are now back in playoff position for the first time in a long time. 

*It’s great to see play-by-play man Dave Strader back in the broadcast booth doing what he does best after his cancer diagnosis. 

*Hats off to the Bruins ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators, for the sweet-looking Boba Fett sweaters worn during this weekend’s Star Wars night. 

*It’s pretty amazing when you’re an NHL player and a former first round pick, and you’re the one most known for being somebody else’s brother. That’s life for Dallas Stars D-man Jamie Oleksiak. 

*Interesting piece about sportswriting, politics and a couple of worlds that were destined to collide at some point. 

*For something completely different: For the 40h anniversary of Star Wars, the toys are being used to recreate classic movie scenes. 

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons.