BOSTON — On a night when 120 penalty minutes were handed out and the third period was marked by a major melee featuring every player on the ice, the Bruins' usual pugilist was spending his time trying to complete a hat trick rather than scrapping.
Shawn Thornton did his part to set the physical tone of Thursday's 4-1 win over Atlanta with a marathon bout with Eric Boulton just two seconds into the opening period. But Thornton was far more excited about the two goals he scored to earn first-star honors.
After he scored the second at 4:54 of the third, the sellout crowd began to chant "We Want Thornton," imploring coach Claude Julien to give the popular tough guy some extra shifts to go for the hat trick.
"Not too many people in their life get to hear their name chanted by 18,000 people," Thornton said. "It's a very special feeling. The fans here obviously have been great. I've said that ever since I signed here. They've been unbelievable to me, but that's obviously another level. I'm very appreciative of that.
"My parents were in the house tonight and my wife was here, too," Thornton added. "She doesn't come to many games, so I'm sure they got a kick out of it, too. I've come a long way from my beginnings to that happening."
Julien wasn't immune to the effects of the chants, and the coach did his best to give Thornton a shot at his first three-goal game.
"Absolutely, that's why I put him out there tonight," Julien said. "You know, not just to please people, but because he deserved that opportunity. That was the first reason I put him out there. When they pulled their goalie, I was hoping the goalie would stay out, you know, to give him a chance, but unfortunately it didn't happen, but we gave it a shot."
Atlanta did pull goalie Ondrej Pavelec with just over three minutes left, but got called for too many men on the ice and returned the netminder to the crease while shorthanded.
"I'd rather earn it anyway," Thornton said. "I don't want my first hat trick to be on an empty net. I'd take it, but I'd rather it have been if I buried it on that last one instead."
Thornton nearly got it, following up a Greg Campbell rebound late in the third, then off a set-up by David Krejci in the closing seconds. But he couldn't quite get that third one to go in.
"It was nice of them to give me the opportunity to try to get that third one," Thornton said. "My teammates were unbelievable trying to get that opportunity for me, too. They really went out of their way trying to set it up. [Krejci] did a great job with a few seconds left. I just couldn't pull the trigger."
Instead, Thornton had to settle for setting a new career high with seven goals on the season. That and the appreciation of his teammates for all the work he does.
"He's such a team guy," right wing Nathan Horton said. "He's so great. It's nice to see him get a couple goals and almost get the third one. He's a great guy to have on your team."