He won't let his status for Wednesday's Game 7 against the Capitals become a distraction with his club about to play its most important game of the season.
And it is precisely because Thornton is the type of guy who will always put his team first that there should be no question about his spot in the lineup.
But Thornton's status is in doubt. He was a healthy scratch for the first time in the series in Game 6 on Sunday when he sat in favor of rookie Jordan Caron, and Bruins coach Claude Julien will have to choose between the two again on Wednesday.
Julien said after practice Tuesday that he will wait until the last minute again and finalize his Game 7 lineup after warm-ups on Wednesday. But this shouldn't be a difficult decision.
Has the impact Thornton made in the last Game 7 the Bruins played already been forgotten? Thornton and linemates Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell were instrumental in that victory in Vancouver, helping the Bruins take the Cup with a 4-0 win as they consistently kept the Canucks hemmed in their own zone and wore down Vancouver's defense with a physical forecheck.
"Yeah, they really sparked us, and if it wasn't for them, we probably wouldn't have won," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said of the fourth line's contribution in the Cup Final. "They played a phenomenal game from start to finish, and they gave us energy at the right times to pick us up when Vancouver was coming at us. So, we're going to need all four lines going tomorrow, and they're definitely a big part of our team. We need them going, too."
Thornton is a big part of what makes that line, and the entire team, go. He displayed his energy, enthusiasm and leadership throughout the Finals when his return to the lineup in Game 3 after Boston dropped the first two games helped spark a turnaround. He showed his ability to shift momentum even more recently, as his physical play in the form of a few well-timed hits and even an attempt to get into a scrap helped get Boston going after falling behind 2-0 in Game 5. The Bruins rallied to tie it 2-2 with a pair of goals 28 seconds apart before Boston eventually fell in overtime.
"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," Julien said. "Sometimes a coach has to make decisions. It's nothing personal. … It's what we need for this certain game, and that's all it was. He understands that stuff. He's been through it many times, even before he came here. He's all about the team, and whatever we need to do, he's going to support us."
Julien got that part right. Thornton has been the ultimate good soldier since being scratched.
"This time of year, whatever helps the team," Thornton said Tuesday when asked about having to sit out Sunday. "Me and Claude had a good talk. It was a decision that was made, and I fully support it. It's not about me this time of year. It's about wins and losses."
Thornton even managed to maintain his usual sense of humor about the situation.
"I joked that I wished he would have told me before I had my six coffees," said Thornton, who was not informed that he wouldn't play until after warm-ups. "It's tough to watch a game when you're that wired."
Thornton shouldn't be watching with the Bruins' season on the line, though. While he won't make an issue of the slight, it is simply a horrible message to send to the rest of the team to bench one of the club's veteran leaders and a guy who has fought and bled for the club all season long.
Sunday's scratch was a defensible decision. Julien didn't know if injured center Patrice Bergeron would be able to make it through the game, and Caron is better suited to moving up the lineup if needed. But Bergeron, while limited, made it through fine, chipping in an assist, three shots and two hits while playing 18:46. Now, with two more days of rest, the Bruins can be even more confident that he'll be able to gut it out again in Game 7.
Caron, meanwhile, played just 4:56 and was largely ineffective with a minus-1 rating and just a single shot and one hit. That's not a knock on Caron, who remains a promising youngster, but he was put in an almost impossible position, playing his first game in more than two weeks and his first professional playoff game period with the Bruins trying to stave off elimination.
Thornton, on the other hand, is the veteran of two Cup runs, winning a ring with Anaheim in 2007 as well as last year with the Bruins. In the first five games of the series, he averaged 7:30 with nine shots, 16 hits and an even plus/minus. He didn't even take a penalty.
"It certainly wasn't related to [Thornton's] play, it was related to a decision I had to make just before the game," Julien said Monday. "It's hard for me to give that reason right now because it would probably open up a can of worms, so I'm going to leave it at that. It's certainly not because of Thornton's play; it's because of necessity."
The necessity on Sunday would presumably have been the uncertainty with Bergeron. Julien made it certain on Tuesday that there were no doubts about Bergeron playing in Game 7.
There should be no doubt about Thornton's spot in the lineup, either.
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