June 6, 2011

Thornton makes impact on and off ice in return

Bruins winger Shawn Thornton yaps at Canucks forward Max Lapierre during Game 3. (Getty)

BOSTON -- When word began to leak out Monday afternoon that Shawn Thornton would probably be back in the lineup for the Bruins in Game 3, many a fan cried foul. It wasn't because Thornton, beloved 'round these parts, was going to be deployed into playoff action for the first time since Game 2 of the conference finals against the Lightning, but that it meant prized rookie Tyler Seguin would likely -- once again -- be the odd man out.

Seguin was nothing shy of sensational in the first two postseason tilts of his NHL career, garnering the hockey world's attention with a two-point debut and a mesmerizing, record-tying four points in the second period of Game 2 against the Bolts. But from there, his performance waned.

The first-year pro made little-to-no impact in the first two contests of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Canucks, prompting coach Claude Julien to make a change and turn to Thornton, a Cup winner himself back in 2007 with Anaheim.

And while Thornton may not possess the slick hands or blazing speed that Seguin does, the veteran winger brings more to the table than he's often given credit for. The 34-year-old forward made the most of his minutes in Monday's 8-1 win.

"Yeah he brought a lot of energy," Milan Lucic said of Thornton's effort. "He was real excited to play when he got the call, and he’s done a lot for this team in the last four years. And he brings a lot of experience, because he’s been there before and he was able to bring that emotional boost."

It took just 3:05 of play for Thornton to make an impact. No. 22 laid a big hit on Alex Burrows in the corner, prompting the crowd at TD Garden to explode, cheering wildly for Thornton's presence on the ice and his check on the detested forward.

"They are very passionate fans," Thornton said when asked about the atmosphere at the Garden, as Boston played host to its first Stanley Cup Finals game in 21 years. "They like their physical games. I mean it was pretty loud out there, I hope that continues on Wednesday. I love playing here, I have for four years. The fans have always been great as far as I’m concerned."

Later on in the second period, Thornton drew a hooking call on Jeff Tambellini, setting up a power-play in which Mark Recchi would score what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

"I thought I was going to get a penalty shot, I was kind of hoping I could use my moves," Thornton quipped after the big win. "You know what, 'Pies' [Dan Paille] made an unbelievable pass to me, I just tried to get a shot off, it was a penalty. But the power play stepped up and gave us a two-goal lead and I think it was nice to see us capitalize. I mean, any time you can contribute you are happy. I was happy I could give a little bit tonight."

Thornton had just as much of an impact on the ice as he did off of it, as the gritty winger gave his club a huge shot in the arm with his presence on the bench and beyond.

"I thought he was awesome tonight," Recchi said. "He has a physical, veteran presence. He's won a Cup before. He knows what it takes. He's a great leader in the dressing room.

"He's a big guy that can skate well. He gets in on the forecheck. He's a presence, and that's important. When you have a big, physical team on the other side like that, you know you got to match that. 'Thorty' came in and played a heck of a game for us. It was nice to see."