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The Hat Trick: Bruins respond in big way

12.24.10 at 3:24 am ET
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It seemed a forgone conclusion this week that Dec. 23 was going to be a critical day in the 2010-11 Bruins’ season. It was the day the town was watching to see what they were made of, and Boston was going to get an answer, one way or another.

The answer the B’s gave came in perhaps their most complete game of the season, a 4-1 pounding of the Thrashers (recap) at TD Garden. Everything that was missing in Monday’s 3-0 loss to the Ducks, particularly the drive that seemed to escape the Bruins recently, was there. They scored, they played sound special teams, and they fought (a lot).

Now, with the Bruins going from playing their worst game of the season Monday to perhaps their best, it’s only natural to wonder if this could be a turning point for the team. Did everything this week, from the criticism to the questions to the absurd rumors that Claude Julien was on the hot seat, get to these Bruins and inspire them to put an end to the madness?

“You learn more from the losses and from the tough times,” Andrew Ference said after the game. “When you finally put it together and get a game where you take a step in the right direction, it definitely helps.”

Bruins players had mixed reactions to the idea that Thursday was a statement game, but there is no question a statement was made. Should the town get carried away with it? Why not? Hey, it did after the last game.

Here’s the Hat Trick:

A GOOD RESPONSE GOES BAD

Last season, and even this season, the Bruins have been questioned for not responding when their teammates are victims of cheap-shots. On this night of proving everybody wrong about everything, it was only fitting that they responded to one with a line brawl at 4:06 of the third period.

With Milan Lucic coming through the neutral zone, Freddy Meyer elbowed him in the face, and as Lucic hit the ice, so too did every glove (goaltenders excluded) of every skater. Ference went after Meyer, and from a massive scrum came three separate spinoffs. Nathan Horton pounded on Evander Kane, Marc Savard tangoed with Bryan Little, and Ference took on Anthony Stewart.

The Garden was as loud as it’s been all season, and they didn’t even have to taunt Phil Kessel in the process. The Bruins responded the way people have been calling for them to, and showed that standing up for a teammate isn’t a one-man job. With the way Meyer was going, Lucic saw it as only a matter of time.

‘€œIt was a high hit, for sure. I was bleeding from the lip. After a hit like that ‘€” that was the second time he’€™s hit me cheap,’€ Lucic said. ‘€œThat’€™s the second time. You can’€™t give a guy a free pass too many times.’€

The problem with the reaction of course, is that Lucic, furious with Meyer’s hit, lost his cool and slugged him in the temple. It was textbook intent to injure, and there was nothing incorrect about the punishment. Lucic received a game misconduct and a match penalty, which carries a suspension pending a review. Lucic said following the game that he was glad that the team got the win and that he would “face the consequences.”

While everyone can agree that Lucic was in the wrong, the Meyer hit seems to be up for debate. Craig Ramsay said after the game that it was a clean hit, and video replay does show Lucic putting his head down slightly.

Regardless of where Lucic’s head was, it sure did look like Meyer was aiming for it. From this scribe’s perspective, Lucic had the right to be as angry with the play as he was after the game, but the response he and his teammates gave was sufficient without clocking a guy in the temple.

PRACTICE PAYS OFF

The Bruins took a lot of criticism this week, and they deserved it. There was no emotion. They didn’t have a strong forecheck. Instead of being a team worth fearing, they were a team susceptible to domination. That’s what they were on Monday night, when the Ducks rolled into town and embarrassed them in a 3-0 game.

So on Tuesday, after the understandably frustrated fans had begun their venting and appropriately critical columns had been written, the team set to work to get back something they had somehow lost: intensity.

Yes, Patrice Bergeron and Savard went back and forth with cross-checks on Tuesday, and no, it wasn’t a big deal. It was simply an example of the fire the team needed to show, and a fire many in Boston weren’t sure they had.

“We really worked hard on competing and getting some emotion in our game,” Claude Julien said of the practices. “You know, there were three or four instances where guys kind of shoved each other but at the end of practice they really felt good about the practice and about the way they had come out of it. Believe it or not it ended up being fun.”

THAT GOAL-SCORER CAN FIGHT, TOO

As the Bruins celebrated their biggest win of the young season, one that truly came at gut-check time, it seemed only fitting that it was Shawn Thornton who took No. 1 star honors.

Thornton has made a career out of doing the dirty work for the teams he’s played on, and he has been a selfless leader in Boston. That’s why, as one of the four guys on the team who is making less than $1 million, he’s been such a good story.

After Thornton’s two goals Thursday (and he had a couple of very legitimate chances for that third), Thornton has set a career-high with seven goals. None have been empty-netters. None have been particularly soft, and one has been a game-winner.

Yet on Thursday, Thornton wasn’t just showing off his new-found love of scoring. Right off the opening face-off, Thornton challenged Thrashers winger Eric Boulton, and the two began the game by fighting one another for the sixth time in their careers.

The fight sent the message to the fans that the Bruins were there to make a statement, which they promptly did. It’s just hard to imagine many thought it would be Thornton providing half the offense.

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