They lost both, and, desperate for a spark, coach Claude Julien inserted Thornton back into the lineup in Game 3. Thornton's early physical play helped set the tone, and the reunited Merlot Line of Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille played a key role as the Bruins won four of the next five games in the series to claim the franchise's first Cup in 39 years.
On Monday, the Bruins made sure they won't have to play the next two years without the energy, leadership and physical presence Thornton brings to the game on a nightly basis when they announced Thornton had been signed to a two-year, $2.2-million extension to keep him in Boston through the 2013-14 season.
"That's what he does," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "He brings energy. He brings energy on the ice and off the ice. He's a witty guy, too, and he can throw the good barbs and get the guys ready, and that [Game 3 against Vancouver] is a perfect example of Shawn bringing energy and turning the momentum."
Thornton would have been an unrestricted free agent in July, and while his $1.1 million cap hit will be a bump up from his current $812,500 salary, he may have been able to land a richer deal from another club. But staying in Boston was always the priority for Thornton, who now calls Charlestown home year-round.
"I've always said I wanted to stay here in Boston," Thornton said. "It's home now. I'm very, very happy to get this done and be around for a couple more years."
There are no guarantees in hockey, and Thornton won't have any no-trade protection in his extension.
"I don't think players like me get those too often," Thornton said. "I'm not even sure if we asked for one."
But Thornton hasn't worn out his welcome in five years with the Bruins, so it's not likely he'll have to move on during the course of this new deal, either. That will give the 34-year-old winger a seven-year tenure with the club. That's an impressive run, especially for someone who plays the enforcer role, a position often seen as easily expendable in today's NHL.
"It's pretty amazing to be able to be in one place for seven years," Thornton said. "I'm pretty proud that I haven't had to move anywhere."
Thornton's longevity has a lot to do with his ability to grow beyond the confines of his demanding role. While never hesitant to stick up for a teammate -– Thornton leads the NHL with 19 fighting majors this season -– he also can be relied upon to play a regular shift, is responsible defensively and can even chip in offensively. Last year, he set career highs with a 10-10-20 campaign, and this year he has 4-8-12 totals through 71 games.
"I think everybody knows that Shawn will come to play every night, play hard, and go to his team's defense," Julien said. "He's a good team player. He's in that room. He works hard every day, and I think he's got good leadership qualities in him. When it's time to get ready for a game, he's making sure that he's ready. He's making sure people around him are ready.
"He's got a job that's not an easy job, and anyone who's played this sport, who's watched the sport close enough, knows how tough it is to go and do the job that he does every night," Julien added. "Whenever we get pushed around or we're behind and we need a wake-up call, and all of a sudden, he goes, and he takes charge. He's never told to do it; he just does it on his own. He knows his role extremely well, and for him to be rewarded with a new contract is worthy of his work. I'm glad to see that he's here for a couple more years at least."
Just probably not as glad as Thornton is to know he'll be sticking around a little longer.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it's a little weight off the shoulders," Thornton said.
"Obviously, my team first — the guys are a great bunch of guys," Thornton added of why he wanted to stay in Boston. "And it's a team that's built with a lot of youth -– myself excluded, obviously –- but I think they have a bright future here going forward, and I'd like to be in an environment like this. I think I've said it a million times how great the city's been to me and the people here. The fans, they're amazing to me all the time."
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