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Joe Thornton to make just second trip back to Boston since 2005 blockbuster @NHLdotcom

Joe Thornton's first trip back to Boston after the 2005 blockbuster deal that sent him from the Bruins to the San Jose Sharks didn't last very long.

The big centre was tossed just 5:13 into a 6-2 win that night for checking Hal Gill from behind, and he hasn't been back at TD Banknorth Garden since.

That'll change Tuesday, when his Western Conference-leading Sharks drop in on the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins for what shapes up as an intriguing matchup in more ways than one.

Thornton hopes to make it through the whole game this time out.

"Well, yeah," he said Friday on a conference call. "It's hockey and you kind of expect the unexpected, but obviously you want to play the full 60 minutes.

"It ended up working out well . . . I got to eat some popcorn in the room and everything. But the plan is to play a full game and to have a good game."

The passing of time makes going back this time much less of a big deal than it was the last time, when the Nov. 30 trade was still fresh.

Thornton said at the time that he was "blindsided" by the deal that sent him to the Sharks for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. Facing Boston now is just another game.

"Really that's all it is to me," he said. "There's not too many ex-teammates over there, and it's just really an important game in the schedule.

"They're the best in the East and we're the best in the West. So it's an important game that way rather than I'm playing against friends."

Still, heading back to the rink where he spent his first 7 1/2 NHL seasons will be "a little bit funny," this time around but nowhere near as challenging as it was the first time.

Aside from how short his night was, the thing that sticks out for Thornton from the 2006 game is "just how weird and awkward it was, to be honest with you. It just felt really strange to be on a different side on the bench and skating a different way."

Given his continued emergence into one of the premier centres in the NHL, it's hard to imagine now why the Bruins were so eager to part ways with him.

They had lost nine of their previous 10 games at the time of the deal, while the Sharks were in an 0-7-3 slump. Both were in last place in their divisions.

San Jose ended up losing in the second round that season, just as they have the past two years as well, while Boston only returned to the playoffs last season after failing to qualify the previous two.

Thornton still wonders why he was dealt.

"I know at the time I can remember the team wasn't doing so well," he said. "But I really don't know or I don't think anybody knows other than a couple people why that happened.

"I still don't know."

But the past is the past and both teams are the class of their conferences, leading to the enticing possibility that Thornton's next visit to Boston would be for the Stanley Cup final.

Although he doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself, the thought has crossed his mind.

"Your (mind) wanders a little bit, but obviously we've still got a lot of hockey to work out here," Thornton said. "If that were to be the case it would be great because both teams made it there, but I think both teams would agree we've still got a lot of work ahead of us."

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