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Bruins notebook

Thornton set for a battle

Rugged winger proves invaluable

Blake Wheeler (26) and his Bruins teammates watched replays of Mark Recchi’s overtime winner as it was reviewed. Blake Wheeler (26) and his Bruins teammates watched replays of Mark Recchi’s overtime winner as it was reviewed. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 8, 2010

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For two days last week, Bruins fourth-line winger Shawn Thornton held a one-goal lead over New Jersey’s $100 million man, Ilya Kovalchuk. But on Saturday, Kovalchuk pulled even when he netted a first-period goal, his fifth of the season, in a 5-3 loss to Philadelphia.

That night, with the Bruins playing the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, Thornton heard about the tie from four different sources during the game: referees Stephen Walkom and Eric Furlatt, and linesmen Derek Amell and Michel Cormier, who all approached the tough guy separately to deliver the bad news.

It’s a good-natured competition that has drawn attention around the NHL. But it also underscores how much bang — literally and figuratively — Thornton has provided for the Bruins’ buck ($812,500 annual cap hit).

Thornton (5-1—6, 10:20 of ice time per game) went into last night’s game just one goal away from tying his NHL best. At the same time, he might be having his most effective season when he sheds his gloves.

Thornton has logged six fights, including bouts against bigger guys such as Derek Boogaard and Jody Shelley. For such scraps against bigger fighters, Thornton has leaned on the summer boxing he’s done at The Ring in Boston with sparring partner Tom McInerney.

“I’ve always had to be a fairly smart fighter because everyone’s bigger than me,’’ Thornton said. “I think, technically, it’s always been there. It’s like anything else, I guess. Some stretches, things go well. Some stretches, they don’t.’’

Thornton writes and eats with his left hand. When he was a boy, he threw baseballs lefthanded, a habit broken only after he inherited hand-me-down gloves from his righthanded father.

As a Bruin, Thornton has usually been a righthanded fighter. During his previous NHL stop in Anaheim, Thornton said, he mostly fought lefthanded. But because of his comfort in throwing with either hand, Thornton presents challenges for opponents who might not know if a mid-fight switch could take place.

During summer sparring, Thornton said, he fights one round righthanded, then goes to his left for the next round.

Perhaps it’s coincidence, but management believes there’s a correlation between Thornton’s solid season and the late-summer signing of Brian McGrattan. The ex-Ottawa tough guy is currently in Providence, but could be recalled if the Bruins believe they need more toughness.

McGrattan signed a two-way contract ($515,000 in the NHL, $105,000 in the AHL). Considering how McGrattan’s presence might be pushing Thornton, it was one of Boston’s more valuable recent deals.

In the Kessel mold Last night, for the third straight game, Tyler Seguin lined up alongside Marc Savard, this time on the playmaker’s left side. Seguin had been Savard’s right win for the center’s first two games last week. In 2008-09, as a third-year pro, Phil Kessel scored 36 goals while serving as Savard’s right wing. Kessel was 21, but the Bruins project that the 18-year-old Seguin could provide similar speed and skill as Savard’s linemate.

“I think they’re safe comparisons,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “You’ve got a great winger in Seguin right now that has speed and is able to finish. At this time, he doesn’t have the experience that Kess had when that happened.

“When I say fair comparison, there’s speed and there’s skill. Definitely, Tyler is very good at finishing around the net as well. Whether that’s re-created or not, I think for Savvy to be the best player he can be, it’s to supply him with some guys that can skate and get open. He’s such a good passer, so he can find those guys.’’

Still here Marco Sturm, who gave what he believed were his final farewells last Thursday, was one of the stragglers during an optional morning skate. Sturm took some contact in practice Monday. Sturm, who had offseason knee surgery, was nearly dealt to the Kings last week, but the trade fell through . . . Mark Stuart skated only four first-period shifts before being shut down because of an upper-body injury. Julien said the club would have more information today after evaluating Stuart. The trickle-down effect led to Zdeno Chara logging 31:05 of ice time, the second-highest workload for the captain this season . . . Milan Lucic went to the dressing room for repairs to his left wrist, which he hurt in the third period. Lucic returned and completed the game, but wasn’t in the dressing room after the game . . . Johnny Boychuk locked up with old friend Steve Montador in the first period. Props to Montador for taking on all comers. But the ex-Bruin did a speed bag imitation when Boychuk cuffed him with several uppercuts to end the scrap.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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