Off the game's opening faceoff, Thornton and Boulton dropped the gloves and squared off for the sixth time in their NHL careers. And this wasn't one of those fights that was little more than two players tugging one another's sweaters or a brief flurry of punches before the combatants tumbled to the ice -- Thornton and Boulton traded jabs and uppercuts as they maneuvered around the Bruins' logo at center ice of TD Garden for well over a minute -- one of the longer bouts in the League this season.
"You know what? We've been a little flat lately," Thornton said afterward. "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."
Judging by the noise in the arena, the fans were pumped after the fight, and the Bruins followed by scoring the game's opening goal 3 minutes into the game, as Patrice Bergeron put the puck past Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
Michael Ryder made it 2-0 early in the second, and then Thornton took over the game by using his hands for a different purpose. Defenseman Adam McQuaid pinched down low with the puck and from the right corner threaded a pass to the right circle where Thornton stepped into a one-timer. He blew the puck past Pavelec at the 5-minute mark to give his team a three-goal lead.
The burly veteran, who never had scored more than 6 goals in a season before, wasn't done. After the Thrashers got a goal back courtesy of Dustin Byfuglien, the Bruins scored the knockout punch in the third period, again courtesy of Thornton. This time he took a feed from Daniel Paille off a 2-on-1 break, deked Pavelec and shoveled home a backhander for his second goal of the night and seventh of the season.
The inspired fight followed by the two goals had Boston fans chanting Thornton's name.
"The fans have been unbelievable to me since I got here. Tonight was just another level," Thornton said afterward. "It's been a long journey to get here. Not too many people get to hear their name chanted by 18,000 people. It's a pretty cool experience."
Because Thornton isn't usually known for his offensive heroics, it's easy for him to get overlooked. But his teammates and the Bruins' coaching staff are well aware of his value and tough-as-nails approach to the game.
"He's getting a lot of credit tonight and rightfully so. He made sure everybody here was ready to play," coach Claude Julien said following the victory.
Very happy that old guy finally scored. It was great. You see the excitement on his face. I remember when I scored my first goal and it's just such a great feeling. Anytime you can help contribute to a team win it's a lot of fun.
— Boston defenseman Torey Krug on 26-year-old teammate Kevan Miller, whose first NHL goal helped the Bruins top the Maple Leafs