BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins entered Thursday's game with Atlanta having lost four of five and mired in a scoreless streak of 102 minutes, 57 seconds. The stretch of poor play had even prompted questions about the security of coach Claude Julien's job, with the Bruins stuck in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
So just two seconds into the game, Boston tough guy Shawn Thornton decided to do something about it. He got into a fight with the Thrashers' Eric Boulton and the lengthy bout ignited the crowd as well as Thornton's teammates.
But Thornton didn't contribute just his fists. In the final minute, his shot that glanced off the iron was all that prevented him from notching a hat trick en route to a 4-1 win over the Thrashers before a sold-out crowd at TD Garden.
"You know what, we've been a little flat lately," Thornton said. "I saw that [Thrashers coach and former Bruins assistant Craig Ramsay] was starting the fourth line -- or their energy line. We got the start and I thought it was as good of a time as any to get the guys going, maybe show that we're here to play, show some emotion. Get a little spark."
Said Julien: "He's getting a lot of credit tonight and rightfully so. He made sure everybody here was ready to play."
With 4:06 left in regulation, Atlanta's Freddy Meyer's hit on Milan Lucic as he entered Atlanta's zone sparked a melee. Meyer's hands appeared to strike Lucic first in the chest and then rode up into his face. Andrew Ference grabbed Meyer from behind and the result was six fighting majors and five game misconducts. Lucic received a game misconduct and a match penalty. Other game misconducts went to Atlanta's Anthony Stewart and Bryan Little and Boston's Marc Savard and Ference.
Predictably, the two coaches had differing views on Meyer's hit, which resulted in an elbowing call and a subsequent roughing minor. Julien called it a "dirty hit" and a "cheap hit" while in Ramsay's opinion, it was "a good hit."
"I mean, that's the second time he's done that to me, so, I mean, you can't," Lucic said. "I'm not going to let a guy who never fights do that to me so, it's basically it."
The definition of a match penalty is one that "deliberately attempts to injure" and includes an automatic suspension pending a ruling by the Commissioner's office. The game ended with 120 minutes in penalties.
"That is what happens, you throw a big hit and you have to have a fight," Ramsay said. "We are taking hitting out of the game. He gets a penalty for a good hit. They started all the fights and I thought we should have had a power play for the rest of the game, maybe a two-man advantage. Our guys just responded. They didn't try to do anything. At least our guys stood up for each other."
In a meeting of the League's top two goalies in goals-against average and save percentage, the Bruins' Tim Thomas and Pavelec, Thornton credited Patrice Bergeron for making him look good by getting the first goal -- shorthanded -- three minutes into the first period to keep the momentum going for Boston after the fight.
The Thrashers' Dustin Byfuglien could not keep the puck in at the right point and Bergeron raced to gain possession in the neutral zone. Bergeron went in on a 2-on-0 and called his own number, faking Pavelec to the ice and putting the puck around his left pad to end the long goal-less stretch at 105:57.
Michael Ryder made it 2-0, converting on Boston's fourth power play try at 4:04 of the second period. Ryder took an entry pass from Bergeron off the right boards and angled in towards the right circle. With Atlanta defenseman Brent Sopel giving him plenty of space, Ryder ripped a wrist shot into the net.
Fifty-six seconds later, Thornton stepped into a slap shot from the right circle after taking a feed from Adam McQuaid off the right half wall to make it 3-0.
Byfuglien closed the deficit to 3-1 at 8:40 of the second with his League-leading 13th goal by a defenseman. Evander Kane stopped a Boston clearing try high in the Bruins' zone and then found Byfuglien down low. Byfuglien put a backhander through Thomas' pads from close range. It was the 37th point of the season for Byfuglien (also best among NHL defensemen), which sets a career-high for the 25-year-old.
Thornton restored the three-goal lead for Boston by scoring his second of the game 4:54 into the third period.
"The game for us was not where we have been at during the last little bit here," said Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd, whose hooking penalty preceded Ryder's goal. "My penalty on that one led to a goal. That is my fault. I take responsibility for that one. We had a power play to start the game and we ended up with a shorthanded goal, a tough bounce but a tough way to start."
Atlanta, which briefly held first place in the Southeast Division twice earlier in the week lost for the second straight game. It is the Thrashers' first two-game losing streak since Nov. 17.