BRANDON, Fla. -- The Bruins' day didn't start out well. The driver of the team bus, headed here from St. Petersburg for practice, got lost, and the bus arrived at the Ice Forum some 40 minutes late. Six players were excused from the workout and the rest ran through a brief set of drills before scrambling to make the team charter for Fort Lauderdale.
As the final skaters left the ice and headed for the dressing room, a lone figure stood by the exit, and it was clear his day wasn't going well, either. Captain Joe Thornton, who left Monday night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with five minutes left because of back spasms, reported that he didn't feel any better and there was a strong possibility he'd be heading back to Boston today if he didn't improve dramatically by this morning.
Trainer Don Del Negro recommended that Thornton head home to work with physical therapist Scott Waugh.
''That's what Donnie was saying -- Scotty knows everything about backs and he has more time to settle this down," said Thornton. ''Everything is back in Boston. Scotty knows what he's talking about, so it might be a good idea."
At the very least, it appears Thornton will sit out tomorrow night's contest against the Florida Panthers. His absence creates a substantial void at the already depleted pivot position. No. 2 center Alexei Zhamnov, who the team says has a bruised shoulder, has been listed as day to day for going on two weeks and isn't on the trip. Center Dave Scatchard has yet to play a game (exhibition or regular season) because of a groin strain but appears on target to return tomorrow. That means more responsibility is going to fall to young centers Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes, and veteran Travis Green.
Part of the argument for sending Thornton home is the wear and tear the road adds to his condition, with hotel beds, long bus rides, and plane flights (the Bruins leave Florida Friday for Ottawa).
''Sleeping in different beds every night doesn't really help it out, to say the least, but it's day to day," said Thornton, who doesn't believe his back will pose a long-term problem.
''I think it just needs a couple days off," he said. ''I think just a couple of days and then it will be fine. Donnie said it shouldn't be that long."
Thornton ended the 2003-04 season with an injury (torn rib cartilage) and now, after a year away because of the lockout, he's dealing with a new injury right out of the gate. And it's not minor pain; the spasms are affecting other parts of his body as well.
''It feels pretty good to walk around," he said, ''but in some positions, it kind of just spasms up and pain shoots right down my back. It's a little bit in my [legs] and hip. It's like a knife in your back, but with a couple of days off, it should be fine."
Thornton had an MRI Sept. 27, and if he goes back to Boston, he'll likely have another one. He's hoping it won't be necessary.
''If it feels better, I'll stay down here," he said. ''If we get a handle on it now, it should be fine for the rest of the year."
The Bruins' long-term fortunes could well depend on Thornton being right.