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First period summary: Bruins-Thrashers 03.23.10 at 7:41 pm ET
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Tuesday’s contest basically amounts to a playoff game between the Bruins and the Thrashers in Atlanta. The Thrashers start the night one point behind the Bruins for the final playoff and an outright win would see them jump Boston in the standings.

Boston is doing its best to make sure that does not happen.

After a slow start Boston broke for the first goal when a Bruins shot got caught in traffic through the crease in front of Thrashers’ goaltender Johan Hedberg. Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder started banging around on the puck causing it to bounce to the far side of the crease where David Krejci snuck in from behind the goal line to pound it home for the goal advantage at 9:25.

After that the Bruins started gaining more opportunities and taking the momentum away from the Thrashers in their home at Phillips Arena. To try and stop that momentum the Thrashers forward Eric Boulton signaled Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton for a fight at 11:00. Boulton got his arm caught in his sleeve to start the fight and Thornton got a couple of shots in before the pair skated at center ice in a draw before Thornton tugged Boulton’s sweater over his head to end it.

Overall the compete level for each team is relatively high, as it should be at this juncture in the season but Boston leads 1-0 heading into the second.

Shots through first:

Boston – 10

Atlanta – 7

Read More: David Krejci, Eric Boulton, Johan Hedberg, Shawn Thornton
Shawn Thornton press conference, 3/18 03.18.10 at 10:12 pm ET
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Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton spoke to the media following the Bruins’ 3-0 loss to the Penguins. Thornton wasted no time seeking revenge vs. Penguins forward Matt Cooke at the start of the game.

Read More: Matt Cooke, Shawn Thornton,
Bruins blanked by Penguins at 8:33 pm ET
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Summary – In one of the most anticipated games of the season, the Bruins got their revenge but ended up losing the contest as the Penguins beat Boston 3-0 at TD Garden on Thursday. Tuukka Rask started and took the loss for the Bruins with 28 saves while Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury picked up his 33rd win of the year by stopping 17 pucks.

Boston got the dramatic bits out of the way early when Shawn Thornton threw down the gloves against Matt Cooke on Cooke’s first shift of the game at 1:58 in the first period. The retribution by Thornton was the Bruins initial response for Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard on March 7 that left the center with a Grade 2 concussion. Savard will miss the rest of the year.

After that, it was time to play hockey.

Tyler Kennedy got the Penguins on the board first when he took the puck on the rush down the right wing and beat Rask high for the early goal advantage. It was Kennedy’s 10th goal of the year with the helpers coming from Ruslan Fedotenko and Brooks Orpik at 8:34.

Boston took three penalties in the second period and were able to kill them all but the momentum shifted in the direction of the Penguins who outshot the Bruins 15-5 in the frame. Pittsburgh broke through with an even-strength goal by Alexei Ponikarovsky with 14.1 seconds left to take a two-goal advantage into the third period.

Pittsburgh made it 3-0 when Michael Rupp beat Rask far side at 5:14 in the third to put the Bruins away for good.

Three Stars

Marc-Andre Fleury — The Penguins goaltender did not need to stop many pucks against the Bruins, but he ended up stopping enough to his his 33rd victory of the year.

Alexei Ponikarovsky — Pittsburgh acquired the scoring forward at the trade deadline and he scored the separation goal for the Penguins with his 21st in the second period.

Michael Rupp — The center got in a fight with Zdeno Chara and scored the Penguins third goal of the game in the third period to seal the Bruins fate.

Turning Point — The ways things go for the Bruins offense, the first goal that Rask allowed was the one that broke their back. The emotion of Thornton’s fight against Cooke had worn off and when regular hockey activities commenced Boston found itself outmatched. Kennedy got the strike with a rush down the right wing that was fed by Fedotenko. Rask could not follow the quick shot that Kennedy let go and the Penguins had the lead and never looked back.

Key Play — It may not have been the key play to the game, but Thornton tracking down Cooke for the retribution fight on Cooke’s first shift of the game was essential for Boston’s reputation with its fans and within the NHL. Cooke jumped the boards for his shift at 1:56 in the first period and Thornton had his glove off and ready for the fisticuffs by 1:58, showing that he was going to waste no time in getting the matter over with. Cooke got the first few punches in on Thornton but the Bruins enforcer scored the next couple of hits and pulled Cooke’s sweater over his head that brought the forward to his knees. Thornton took the fighting major as well as a 10-minute misconduct.

Read More: Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cooke, Shawn Thornton, Tuukka Rask
Thornton vs. Cooke photo gallery at 7:41 pm ET
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The much-anticipated Bruins-Penguins game has begun, and it didn’t take long for a fight to break out. Matt Cooke and Shawn Thornton squared off just 1:58 into the first period. Check out the photo gallery to see it all unfold.

Read More: Matt Cooke, Shawn Thornton,
First period summary: Bruins-Penguins at 6:54 pm ET
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It took all of two seconds.

That would be the amount of time that Matt Cooke was on the ice before Bruins forward Shawn Thornton tracked him down and signaled for a fight. Cooke jumped the boards for his first shift at 1:56 and skated to across the ice towards his defensive zone corner. Thorton came straight at him and let him know that he was on his way and they dropped gloves and circled each other. Cooke got the first couple of punches before Thornton went in with as much vigor as has been seen from him this year, registering a couple hits to the head and then pulling his sweater over his head. When the referees pulled the enforcer off of Cooke he was still visibly upset and was restrained as Cooke made his way to the box for the five-minute fighting major. Thornton received the five-minute fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct for instigating the fight.

Then there was hockey to be played and when it comes to that, the Penguins tend to fare better than the Bruins this season.

Pittsburgh scored the first goal of the game at 8:34 when Tyler Kennedy beat Tuukka Rask on a wrist shot on a rush down the right wing. It was Kennedy’s 10th of the year and the Penguins had the early lead.

Like the last time the teams played (March 7 in Pittsburgh), Boston had a couple of power play opportunities to get on the board in the first period. The first came at 5:36 when the Penguins were called for too many men on the ice, served by Kennedy. The second came, much to the delight of the TD Garden crowd, against Cooke at 12:52 when he side-swiped defenseman Dennis Seidenberg on the end boards behind Rask for a tripping penalty.

Just like March 7, Boston could do nothing with the man-advantage.

Outside of Thornton’s retribution and Kennedy’s goal, the play was even through much of the period but the Penguins will begin the second with a goal advantage.

Shots through first:

Boston – 5

Pittsburgh — 5

Read More: Matt Cooke, Shawn Thornton, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Kennedy
Shawn Thornton pregame press conference, 3/18 at 11:49 am ET
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Bruins forward Shawn Thornton spoke to the media following the team’s morning skate on Thursday and answered questions about Matt Cooke and the condition of Marc Savard.

Read More: Matt Cooke, Shawn Thornton,
Bruins looking for win first, Cooke second at 11:44 am ET
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There is blood in the water.

The Bruins know it. The fans know it. The media especially knows it. When Matt Cooke and the Penguins take the ice Thursday night at TD Garden, the entire NHL community will be watching to see how the Bruins respond. The situation has become serious to the point that NHL vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell and director of officiating Terry Gregson will be in attendance at the game and will address both coaches before the puck drops.

The players are not saying all that much though. Really, there is not much they can say. The instigator rule and prevents them from saying that they are going to go out and take Cooke down and purposefully going after specific players for vigilante justice has become a sensitive topic in the league. Either way, the eyes of Boston will be on Shawn Thornton, Mark Stuart and Milan Lucic to step up against Cooke early and often.

Thornton knows there is hype coming in but he is just not buying it.

“You [the media] are the ones that keep hyping it,” Thornton said. “Obviously we are not happy with [Savard] being hurt but we need the two points, we are scraping for a playoff spot.”

Do not get Thornton wrong. He is an old school type of player and understands his role on the team. At the same time, he is not looking for his own suspension and is not a fan of the instigator rule though he understands why it is in place. The letter of the law (rule 47.11 in the NHL rulebook) defines an instigator with the following criteria — “distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.”

That last part would definitely apply in the case of Cooke v. Bruins.

“I am not a big believer in this [instigator] rule anyways,” Thornton said. “We also have guys in this league who aren’€™t as honest anyway so I understand why it is there.”

Every Bruin is more or less saying the same thing — we need the two points tonight because we are fighting for a playoff spot. That is the bottom line.

“The focus is on the game, we have to have two points,” Steve Begin said. “It is very close right now for the playoffs. That is all that matters, that is how we are thinking this morning. I don’t know what is going to happen, what he [Campbell] is going to talk about.”

The media dug at Begin and Thornton, asking about Cooke and the Penguins with variations of the same question (ie, what are you going to do tonight?) but the answer was just about always the same — we want the two points.

“We are just approaching this game as one where we need the two points,” Tim Thomas said after deflecting a question on how the Bruins dealt with instigators like Sean Avery last year. “We are on that border for the playoffs so the most important thing is the two points.”

The game in question from last year was against the Stars in early November. The Bruins, with Marc Savard leading the way against Avery, got into a brawl that ended up sparking the team on a run from November to February last season and was one of the defining moments of the year. Thursday’s game has a chance to be a defining moment for Boston if they can deal with the Cooke issue on the ice and register a convincing win against one of the top teams in the conference. At the same time, no one can plan a defining moment.

“Those type of games, you can’t plan them,” Thomas said. “If you plan them and try to make it into a game like that then it hardly ever works. So, it could be a big win for us to make sure that we are in the playoffs. Beyond that, who knows? You just have to play.”

On the other end of the aisle, the Penguins have their own problems to deal with. They are coming to Boston on the back end of a back-to-back after being dropped 5-2 by the Devils last night and are now tied with New Jersey at the top of the Atlantic division with 87 points.

“I don’t know, I am not on their side and I don’t know how they are going to react,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “You never want to see a guy get injured like that, it is very sad. But hockey happens fast, everything happens fast and it sucks to see [Savard] go down like that and it looks like the rules are going to change a little bit and hopefully we can prevent stuff like that from happening.”

Cooke’s teammates know that he will be looking out for himself come game time.

“[Cooke] is going to come out and play the way he plays,” Eric Godard said. “He always shows up and plays the same way every night. So, I would not expect anything else tonight … [Cooke] always has his head up. He is more than able to take care of himself.

Read More: Eric Godard, Marc Savard, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cooke
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