BOSTON — The packed house at the Garden was expecting fireworks when the Bruins and Canucks met for the first time since last year's contentious Stanley Cup Final, but most probably didn't expect it to reach full boil quite this quickly.
Just 3:54 into the game, a scrum broke out in front of the Vancouver bench that quickly grew to involve all the players on the ice, and perhaps at least one that wasn't.
The melee was sparked by some questionable Canucks stickwork that drew the wrath of Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton, who in turn was jumped by a host of Vancouver players to escalate the episode to full donnybrook status. Thornton said after the game that he believed it was Canucks agitator Maxim Lapierre who began the incident, although the video appears to show Alexandre Burrows jabbing at Thornton with his stick.
"He slashed Piesy [Daniel Paille] on his way off, so I let him know I was there," Thornton said of who he thought was Lapierre. "Then he turned around and speared me in the throat, so I dropped my gloves.
"I'm a big boy, I can handle myself, I'm not worried about that," Thornton added after the Canucks hung on for the 4-3 victory. "I was more upset with the spear to the throat. I don't lose my cool for no reason. I fancy myself a pretty honest player, but I'm not going to let somebody spear me in the throat. I'm also a man, so I'm going to stand up for myself."
The rest of the Bruins weren't especially concerned about Thornton's ability to handle himself either, despite the numerical advantage the Canucks had initially.
"It's Thorty, so I wasn't too worried about him," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "You know our guys aren't too far behind him. I think he was probably smiling the whole time."
The Bruins were quick to join the fray, which devolved into a massive scrum along the boards. There was also a long and spirited scrap between Nathan Horton and Vancouver tough guy Dale Weise when they separated from the pack.
"I knew there was a lot of bodies," Thornton said of the pileup atop him. "I was surprised I could stand up that long with six guys on top of me, until Zee [Zdeno Chara] grabbed somebody and pulled the whole pile down. I'm fine, nothing came out of it. I don't remember getting hit or anything. I was more concerned with just protecting my fingers and face from skates."
Bruins forward Milan Lucic came to Thornton's aid as well, but he was ruled to have come off the bench to do so and was ejected from the game. That was the one thing that really upset Thornton.
"I felt we were pretty levelheaded," Thornton said. "Obviously some things happened that maybe sparked a little thing. Obviously with me it was that incident [Lapierre's spear]. I'm sure the league will look at it, but that's what got it going for me. I feel bad that they had seven guys on the ice and Looch was in a change and he gets ejected for coming in to my defense. I feel bad that we lose one of best players after all that."
It was even worse because the NHL admitted after the game that Lucic should not have been ejected. He entered the play on a legal line change and his game misconduct has been rescinded.
"I'm not blaming [the referees], they're in the middle of a scrum there, but Looch was on the ice already," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "It wasn't an illegal change. He didn't come off the bench. There are no issues there in my mind. It's clear. What's unfortunate is that we lost a pretty good player early in the game, and that's what is more disappointing. A guy looking forward to playing this game, he's from Vancouver, and he gets tossed out, but he actually didn't do anything wrong. We'll let the league, again, take care of that stuff because there's nothing more we can do."
The Bruins not only lost Lucic for the game, but also came away from the scrum down two men, which led to Vancouver's first goal of the day.
"I've got to bite my lip as far as that stuff goes," Thornton said. "It's over. Obviously I wasn't happy with it. You guys make your own assumptions about whether we should have been down by two [men] there."
Gregory Campbell did attempt to exact some retribution on Lapierre later in the first, squaring off for a long fight directly off the faceoff after Brad Marchand had tied the game. Thornton then dropped his gloves on the ensuing faceoff, but Wiese backed out of a verbal agreement to engage.
"He's said, 'Let's go,'" Thornton said. "I don't know if he was talking to me or someone else. [Referee] Donnie [VanMassenhoven] heard him and that's why he went with me [to the penalty box], I'm assuming. Donnie said, 'Wait 'til the puck drop,' I said, 'Of course,' and I heard [Weise] say, 'We'll go.' Maybe he was taking to Quaider [Adam McQuaid]. I don't know. Obviously, I thought it was go time."
That proved just one of the many frustrations of the day as the Bruins were unable to continue their domination of the Canucks on home ice this time around.