BOSTON — It opened with a championship-caliber bout. It ended with a street fight. With the Bruins leading the Atlanta Thrashers 4-1 with 4:06 left in the third at TD Garden, Atlanta’s Freddy Meyer leveled Boston’s Milan Lucic with a high hit and all hell broke loose.
Boston defenseman Andrew Ference immediately came to Lucic’s aid. Lucic himself threw and landed a shot to Meyer’s head, leading to a 10-minute attempt to injure match penalty and a 10-minute game misconduct. All five skaters found a dance partner with the most notable pairings being Kane versus Nathan Horton and Bryan Little versus Marc Savard. The only thing missing were goalies Ondrej Pavelec and Tim Thomas trading fists.
It resulted in 86 penalty minutes (39 to Atlanta and 47 to Boston), game misconducts to Lucic, Little and Anthony Stewart and a whole lot of bad blood.
“It was a good hit,” Atlanta head coach Craig Ramsay said. “He got a penalty for a good hit and they started all the fights and I thought we should’ve had a powerplay for the rest of the game and that was disappointing.”
Boston’s Claude Julien saw it completely differently.
“It was a dirty hit,” he said. “I’ve looked at it again and it was a cheap hit and I hope it’s seen that way. With all the head injuries that keep happening, whether its Savard or [Patrice] Bergeron, you can’t keep letting the players react. I‘m gonna stand here and say our guys stood together for a cheap shot, and it was uncalled for and I hope the league sees it that way too.”
Both teams have won 4-1 games against the other this season and meet again in Atlanta in six days. Think there’s still gonna be bad blood?
The final four minutes aside, Atlanta dug its own grave with turnovers and a parade to the penalty box. The Thrashers surrendered eight powerplays to the Bruins and saw their mistakes end up in their net. They were also without defenseman Zach Bogosian and Nik Antropov due to unspecified injuries.
Less than three minutes into the game and on the powerplay, Atlanta defenseman Dustin Byfuglien muffed a pass at the blueline and saw Bergeron saw down ice and cleverly slide a shorthanded goal past Pavelec. It was Bergeron’s 300th career NHL point and the beginning of the end for the Thrashers.
“That put us on our heels,” Ramsay said. “And as we got further behind, it made us do too many crazy things. Specialty teams are so important and we tried to get a good setup and that next thing you know it’s in our net. We still had our opportunities, but its so hard when you give up a shorthander.”
With Andrew Ladd in the box for the second time, Michael Ryder made him pay, blistering a shot over the shoulder of Pavelec and just under the crossbar to double the lead early in the second period.
Less than a minute later, Shawn Thornton made the game 3-0 with his 6th goal of the season with a shot more befitting a sniper than an enforcer as the Bruins looked poised to run the Thrashers all the way back to Atlanta.
“I think they were the better team tonight overall,” said defenseman Johnny Oduya. “They got early goals to get ahead and they are a tough defensive team and tough to score against and if you give them easy goals they are going to give you anything.”
Byfuglien atoned for his earlier error that lead to Boston’s first goal, as he capitalized on the Bruins failure to clear the puck, and with help from Kane and Little, put a backhanded shot through the legs of Bruins goalie Thomas.
Thornton scored his second — and backbreaking — goal early in the third to make the score 4-1, which it remained. Afterwards, the Thrashers looked disinterested and looked ready to go home as quickly as possible.
“There’s not much to say,” Oduya said. “I don’t think we played our best hockey and they were the better team.”
Two seconds into the game, Thornton and Eric Boulton engaged in a bout worthy of remembering as each landed punch after punch before the linesmen finally ended the fight, with no one in the sold out Garden expecting how the game would end.
“No one saw that coming,” Julien said. “Until that cheap shot.”
Atlanta has now lost two games in a row after earning points in 14 of its last 16 games and is off until Sunday when it will face the Tampa Bay Lightning at home.