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Thornton's back forces early return

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As expected, Bruins captain Joe Thornton was put on a plane back to Boston yesterday morning to have his ailing back evaluated. Thornton was forced to leave the game in Tampa Monday night with about five minutes remaining in the third period because of back spasms.

His condition didn't improve overnight, and Thornton said if he wasn't feeling better by yesterday, he was going home for treatment. The coaching staff decided he should head north and be cared for by Scott Waugh, the club's physical therapist.

''His status is day to day but he just think he has a better opportunity to rehab it and have it looked after back there," said coach Mike Sullivan.

Thornton had four assists in four games but had only four shots on goal, even though the Bruins had 24 power plays in that span. However, Sullivan said he didn't think Thornton was downplaying his condition in an effort to keep playing.

''To his credit, he's a warrior and he plays through a lot of aches and pains that most players probably wouldn't play through," said Sullivan. ''That's just the type of person he is. He's always going to err on the side of playing. We as a staff have to make sure we put him in a position to be successful and be effective. We could have very easily kept him with us and continued his treatment. His status hasn't changed and depending on how quickly he comes around, he could be in our lineup on Saturday [in Ottawa]."

In addition to Waugh's therapy, Sullivan said having Thornton's wear and tear reduced certainly should help his recovery. He won't have to sleep in hotel beds for a few days, won't have to ride buses or sit in planes for any length of time.

''All of those things weighed into the decision we made in sending him back," said the coach. ''We just felt it was the best thing for him and for our team to try to expedite his return."

Sullivan rejected the notion that Thornton's game hasn't been up to snuff.

''I think the ultimate gauge is performance," he said. ''We know our players pretty well, especially the guys we've had in prior years like Joe. Our staff feels we know them well enough to be able to watch them and get a feel for where they're at. Some of it is gut instinct, some of it is just communication [between] the players, the medical staff, and the coaches.

''When they do dress for games, we don't want to put them in a position where they could get injured on a long-term basis for the benefit of a short-term result. We're in this for the long haul. It's early in the year and as important as these games are, we want to make sure that we don't put a player like Joe in a position where we lose him for any length of time. This is just something that has crept up on him and we want to make sure we take care of it."

During yesterday's practice, Sullivan elevated Patrice Bergeron to the top pivot position with left wing Sergei Samsonov and right wing Glen Murray. Sullivan said Bergeron is capable of that role even though he'll garner more attention tonight from the Florida Panthers' checkers.

''He's a natural center and he adapts no matter where we put him," said Sullivan. ''Bergie will play no matter where we want him to play. That's just the type of guy he is. I'm sure if we put him in goal, he'd probably figure it out."

Bergeron said he was comfortable at center and would make any adjustments necessary. However, he said he had no intentions of trying to be Thornton or anyone else.

''I don't want to put any pressure on me because nobody is going to be able to replace Joe," he said. ''He's one of the best players in the world. I just have to play my game. Sure, with a guy like Joe out, all the guys are going to have to chip in and help and work hard. I'm going to have to work harder. There are a lot of great players on the other teams, especially checking lines are usually used to playing against first lines of other teams. I just won't put pressure on myself and I'll try to play my same game."

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