Lest' anyone get the wrong idea, let me start by saying what should be obvious:
1. Thornton was wrong. You never punch a guy lying down and not fighting back.
2. He should be suspended, 5 games or so.
3. Orpik's hit, while maybe questionable, was not "dirty".
However, there is some context that we as Bruins fans should be aware of, that will be missed by the media and everyone else.
Thornton doesn't really belong on this team. Skill-wise he has no place anymore. Yet Bruins players, coaches, and management still seem to want him there. The only possible justification for this is toughness and the protection of his teammates (whether you buy that or not). Thornton has to know that he is only here by a razor thin margin that seems to be shrinking with every passing day. He's just about done. The only way for his to demonstrate his value, given his lack of skills, is to fight, stick up for his teammates, and be the first guy to act as a deterrent to bad hits on Bruins skill players. It's his only chance to justify his spot.
When James Neal guided his knee into the head of a prone Brad Marchand, it marked the 3rd time in less than 60 minutes of game time that a key Bruin player was injured by an illegal or very questionable hit. It was the second rivalry game in a row, looking like the second loss. Thornton was on the ice. Thornton has never been criticized more than after the Matt Cooke hit for failing to immediately take vengeance. Shawn Thornton is there to answer for three injured teammates, not to wait to conduct a feasibility test on the extent of the injuries and the malice of the hits. If Thornton is ever going to be in the roster, he has to do something.
He needs to react then and there. I wanted something done at that point in the game (Marchand looked badly hurt). I was fine with grabbing Orpik and throwing him down. I was fine with starting fights. I was fine with a cuff to the face to Orpik. I obviously was not fine with then crossing the line and throwing the extra punches at a prone player, but it was a surprising thing.
I would never question Orpik's injury, but personally I was shocked that a gloved punch to a visor-ed opponent caused such damage. I couldn't understand it. I like that Thornton immediately took full responsibility, owned the blame, and wished Orpik well (much more than we'll get from James Neal). I wish Orpik well too.
Thornton will pay a huge price I'm sure. He should. I think he's pretty much done. But if he doesn't react and go after someone tonight, than he's as useless as people say he is, and unfortunately he just went too far. He's in a tough spot. I would never argue against the punishment that is coming, but I also don't begrudge the guy. That wasn't Marty McSorely.