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They were in good hands

Thornton provided nice touch for Bruins

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By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / January 11, 2012
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While Brad Marchand walked around the balcony of TD Garden last night, carrying three cups of popcorn and a Gatorade as he served the first part of a five-game suspension, Shawn Thornton was on the ice doing his usual thing against the Winnipeg Jets.

Although the Bruins certainly missed the energy level and grit of Marchand, especially during the first two periods when they were admittedly quiet and unusually slow, the third period of an eventual 5-3 win showed the same Boston team that fans have been used to seeing.

The forechecking was still aggressive. The defense was still sound and, aside from a sloppy turnover by Joe Corvo that led to a second-period Winnipeg goal, mistake free. And perhaps most noticeably, Thornton was throwing his body around like tomorrow didn’t matter.

Whenever the crowd started to go quiet, it seemed, No. 22 did something to get the fans back on their feet. He laid out a few daunting hits, took a two-minute penalty for what was ruled a hit to the head, and had a one-sided fight with former teammate and good friend Mark Stuart. And, as expected, he played with little fear, as if Saturday’s discipline-lacking loss to the Canucks and Monday’s suspension of Marchand never happened.

But Thornton also managed to do something new - something he’d never accomplished in his nine-year career in the NHL.

After getting hacked during a breakaway in the second period, and being awarded a penalty shot, Thornton showed some unusual flash with his stick rather than his fists. He faked a wrister before dangling for a crafty backhand and flipped it over the shoulder of Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec for his first penalty shot goal.

“I was nervous,’’ said the 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound forward, who estimated he hasn’t taken a penalty shot since the midget level. “Anytime you’re out there in front of that many people and it’s just you - well I guess I do it when I fight all the time - but I’m a little more nervous with my hands scoring goals than I am doing the other stuff.’’

But when the rest of the Bruins were held mostly quiet during the first 40 minutes, when Marchand’s absence was noticeable, and young fill-in center Zach Hamill couldn’t seem to find any rhythm, Thornton was the stable piece who kept the Bruins from crashing into a second straight loss for just the second time since October.

“He was huge tonight,’’ said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “We always want to play with a high energy level, that’s the key to our success. For whatever reason, we didn’t do it the first couple of periods. He gave us a lot of energy.’’

After Thornton’s two-minute penalty for an illegal hit to the head of Chris Thorburn - a call that replays indicated was not deserved, and Thornton said referee Greg Kimmerly later apologized for making - the grinding forward again was sent to the penalty box after engaging in the fight with Stuart.

“He cleared me out in front of the net there after the whistle and I took exception to it,’’ Thornton said. “[Stuart] knew I would probably push him back. I’ll still buy him a beer after the game if I see him. No hard feelings.’’

Bruins coach Claude Julien declined to give Thornton credit for changing the team’s momentum heading into the third period, saying, “He was just doing his job.’’ But without Thornton’s bruising personality and dangling breakaway move, a two-goal deficit heading into the third might have been too much for the unusually-quiet Bruins to overcome.

After the game, Thornton was all smiles, joking that goalie Tuukka Rask still will be ahead of him in the pecking order for shootout attempts.

Same ol’ Shawn Thornton. And at least for those final 20 minutes last night, his team looked like the same old grinding Bruins. Even without Marchand.

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