MONTREAL — The life of an NHL  enforcer certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not a destination spot for those seeking to bathe in glory or blanket themselves in warm, comforting plaudits.
Underrated Shawn Thornton , one of the biggest yet least talked about pieces of this flashy, rugged, dominant Bruins hockey machine, came up one assist short of the Gordie Howe hat trick on Sunday afternoon.
But he still made an unmistakable imprint on the B’s 3-1 win over the sagging Canadiens at the Bell Centre , and showed once again why his personality on and off the ice are such a big part of the Big Bad Bruins resurgence in Boston.
Thornton bagged the game-winner, dropped the gloves for some fisticuffs after getting the invite to dance from AHL journeyman Alex Henry and unloaded a game-high four shots against Habs goaltender Carey Price  during yet another playoff-style victory.
Not bad for a night’s work from a hard-nosed guy that’s been bringing it every night — and setting the ultimate example — all season long for the Spoked B.
“He’s been a big part of (the team) for us this year,” said Dennis Wideman , who essentially ripped the Habs’ heart out when he notched a game-tying marker with just 0.6 seconds left in the first period. “He’s obviously a very good fighter. I think the best part about him is he knows when to fight. He knows the right time to do it.
“He’s been around a long time and he knows how a fight can really swing the momentum in a game,” added Wideman. “He’s invaluable to us and he’s scored some really big goals for us this year too. It’s huge for us when you put the so-called fourth line out there and they just have an offensive shift in the other team’s zone the whole time.”
As is always the case with a lionhearted and modestly-skilled pugilist like Thornton, however, he’s nowhere to be found when the mighty Montreal media doles out their Three Stars for the game as they did Sunday afternoon. Thornton’s fingerprints were smeared all over the B’s winning blueprint, but instead Tim Thomas  (a solid 27 save game) and Wideman garnered Boston’s two stars.
Once again, no glorified back slaps for Thornton.
Instead he’s off somewhere dipping his right punching hand into ice and jacking down from skating before a raucous Bell Centre crowd of 21, 273 — many of whom didn’t stick around much after Marc Savard  picked Andrei Kostitsyn’spocket and snared the empty net insurance marker with 57 seconds remaining in the game.
Thornton’s game-winner snapped a 1-1 tie 8:02 into the second period during a typically relentless blue collar shift skating along with big Byron Bitz and crafty Stephane Yelle. Bitz, playing strong and stout along the wall and the boards, held on to the puck behind the Canadiens net and found Thornton buzzing around at Price’s doorstep.
“Bitzy is just a big moose,” said Thornton of his linemate after the game. “He makes a lot of smart plays with the puck, and it’s just been a treat since he’s been here.”
The B’s coaching staff has also been rightly impressed with the work done by the 6-foot-5 Cornell graduate, who might have a bright future in the stock market or a law firm someday but is currently serving a valuable role as a big-bodied grinder on a hard-working Bruins team.
“He’s that type of player I guess with size and strength and everything else; he just seems to fit the billing for that line right now,” said Julien. “There’s probably more guys in Providence that have higher skill level, but they wouldn’t be the right fit. He’s just fit right in. I don’t see a guy that’s been intimidated at all by the speed (of the NHL ).
“(Bitz) just plays his game with everybody he’s up against. He finishes his checks and he wins his battles. He’s been pretty impressive,” added Julien. “He’s been one of our better guys along the walls. If somebody is pinching then he’s eating that puck and he isn’t throwing the puck around. Very, very seldom do you see him turn the puck over.”
After collecting Bitz’s nifty pass, Thornton unloaded a forehand bid with as much force as possible through a sea of bodies and goaltending equipment. Somehow, some way the puck found a path through Price’s pads for his fifth goal of the season. The play confirmed two things: Bitz seems to be finding a role for himself on this hockey club and Thornton keeps building brick-by-brick on what’s turning into his best season in the NHL.
“I’ve been talking about (Thornton) for a while now and even that line: Yelle, Bitz and Thornton,” said B’s coach Claude Julien . “I think it’s only fitting that Thorny gets the game-winner — and that line — because of the way that they’ve been playing. I played them right to the end. There was no reason to pull them back because they were doing such a great job. In their own end, getting pucks out, and doing such a great job of keeping it in (Montreal’s) end when they got their puck down there.”
In the fighting arena, Thornton got things out of the way earlier with the knowledge that an AHL call-up named Alex Henry, who he had dropped the gloves with years ago in the minors, was seeking out a hockey scrap. Thornton obliged just 1:06 into the game and gave up both size and reach to a taller, bigger opponent in Henry. Both got their shots in during a back-and-forth brawl that lasted well over a minute, and then both retired to the penalty box for five minutes of rest and relaxation.
It’s the only way of life for Thornton in the fighting game, and it’s another undervalued facet of a quietly effective hockey skill set.
“He asked (for the fight),” said Thornton of the scrap. “He’s a tough kid and he wants to create a spot for himself on their team. So good for him. I knew it was going to be somebody, so I figured I’d take care of it all at once.”
Even the candy cane-style “barber pole” pajamas worn by the Canadiens — a tribute to the red, white and blue sweater donned by the 1912-13 edition of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season — couldn’t throw Thornton off track for the win. Though he did wonder if he was having some kind of frozen sheet mirage during the pregame skate.
“It wasn’t as bad during the game when there were only five guys out on the ice, but when I looked down during warmups and there were 23 guys skating around … I was dizzy,” said Thornton. “It wasn’t as bad when the numbers went down, but I was really concerned about it during warmups. I didn’t know if I hadn’t had enough sleep or what.”
After Thornton’s day at the office, it might be the Canadiens who have a little trouble sleeping tonight after yet another loss to the Black and Gold Sunday afternoon.
“Put Him in Prison Stripes”
Here’s a little bit of youtube goodness featuring the fight between Thornton and Henry along with a great diatribe tying together Henry’s place in the hockey world along with the “Keystone Kops and Robbers” sweaters donned by the Habs. I call the fight a draw, but give a clear victory to Jack Edwards in the verbal lambasting.