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Fighting spirit, like the good old days

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / February 10, 2011

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Nothing like a visit by the Canadiens to provide a measuring stick for the Bruins. The Habs aren’t the Habs of old, and haven’t been for a couple of decades, but there is still something about that CH on the front of those Montreal sweaters that makes us all think about warm spring days, the playoffs, and what it will take for the Cup-starved Bruins (38 years and counting) to bring Boston its missing championship.

The prize inside the box of Cracker Jacks last night, what turned into an emotional and entertaining 8-6 victory for the Bruins, was a series of old time dustups between the proud rivals, a couple of sticks-and-gloves-shedding events, the first of which featured goalies Tim Thomas and Carey Price in a brief, gentlemanly tussle in Montreal’s end. When goalies fight. The sellout Garden crowd of 17,565 mimicked the old Garden crowd of 14,448, shaking the building to its foundation when Thomas skated up ice to confront his masked counterpart with 12:36 gone in the second period.

With all 10 skaters otherwise engaged in punching, pulling, facewashing, headlocking and noogeying (Moe, Larry, the cheese!) behind Price’s net, Thomas skated faster than Lindsay Lohan on a jail break to join in the Causeway Street punch bowl. Without a fight since his teenage days playing junior hockey in Michigan, the 5-foot-11-inch, 205-pound Thomas promptly discarded mask and gloves and entered into the fray with the 6-3, 220-pound Price.

“He was more than willing to fight,’’ said Thomas, who said he typically has a friendly, cordial relationship with the 23-year-old Habs goalie. “I had a big old plan to grab him with my right hand and throw with my left.’’

The plan was scuttled when Price reached in first and secured a better grip on Thomas.

“I looked up,’’ said Thomas, “and he had that big right hand cocked and ready to come.’’

At which point the fight was essentially over without a real punch thrown, Thomas able to tug enough of Price’s sweater off before he tumbled to the ice, leaving Price left with a fallen opponent at his feet. The climax didn’t come close to matching the buildup.

“He followed fighters’ manners,’’ noted a thankful Thomas, well aware that Price opted not to punch him while he was down.

The other fight fest came with 40.5 seconds to go in regulation, this time with the goalies resisting their itch to scratch and claw at each other. The highlight in this card was Boston center Greg Campbell repeatedly drilling Tom Pyatt with a series of piston-like left hands to the head and upper body. Pyatt today might visit Montreal City Hall about a name change from Pyatt to Pinata. What a beating.

Campbell fights with a raw, frenetic rage, similar to that of bigger teammate Milan Lucic, and he delivers from a tight, compact stance, making him pound for pound perhaps the club’s most entertaining fighter since Terry O’Reilly (let the e-mails begin).

What did it all measure? Well, no question, if these clubs meet somewhere in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Bruins know for sure they can’t be intimidated by their old Adams Division brethren. Not in the fight game. Not in the more important game of trading chances and putting pucks in the net. The Bruins know they can pound the downsized Habs into submission, at their will (further evidence: Johnny Boychuk beating down Jaroslav Spacek while Shawn Thornton tried desperately to do the same to a more slippery Roman Hamrlik).

Meanwhile, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli now has less than three weeks to figure out if he needs more than the lineup now in hand. Is there an elite forward walking through that door? Probably not, because elite centers and wingers are usually gobbled up in the hours, if not minutes, immediately following the start of free agency July 1.

The one elite scorer who might be available is Brad Richards, but there remains no knowing whether Dallas will wheel the soon-to-be free agent. And if they do, the Bruins will be among a hungry pack of at least a dozen bidders who show up on GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s door in Dallas in hopes of landing the former Lightning standout.

All GMs have until the afternoon of Feb. 28 to wheel and deal. It’s obvious that Mark Stuart, out of uniform (coach’s decision) for the last seven games, is a lead candidate to go (last night’s rumor had him headed to Chicago). Blake Wheeler, on a line last night with Zach Hamill and Michael Ryder, is also on the possible deportation list. It’s likely the Wild would be interested in both Minnesota homeboys, Stuart and Wheeler.

Between periods last night, Chiarelli said he is willing to deal away Toronto’s first-round pick this year, the one he owns as part of the deal that sent Phil Kessel to the Leafs.

“I’ve had an offer for it, and I’m willing to deal it,’’ he said. “We continue to talk with the club that offered it. But needless to say, we’d have to get an elite talent back for it.’’

It’s all but a certainty that Chiarelli will rekindle talks with Brian Burke in Toronto about obtaining defenseman Tomas Kaberle, whose puck moving could tease out another dimension of offense from the Boston forwards. Burke, according to two league sources, is also willing to move ex-Bruins prospect Kris Versteeg. Both Kaberle and Versteeg, who plays with a Brad Marchand-like edge, could provide a significant booster shot for the Black and Gold.

“We have a lot of assets,’’ said Chiarelli, “and we are looking to deal.’’

For now, he’s still taking measure.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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