Shawn Thornton Saves Claude Julien's Job (For Now)

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2010

BOSTON - MARCH 18:  Shawn Thornton #22 of the Boston Bruins fights with Matt Cooke #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the TD Garden on March 18, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Penguins defeated the Bruins 3-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As drastic as it sounds, Shawn Thornton may have saved Claude Julien’s job, and the Bruins’ season, with his play in Boston’s 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Coming into Thursday night’s game against Atlanta, the Bruins were in disarray. They had lost four of their last five games and were at a crossroads in the season.  Claude Julien was placed firmly on the hot seat, having admitted publicly that he did not know what to do with his team, which had been accused of playing uninspired hockey. There appeared to be much of the same for the Bruins, a talented team that couldn’t put it all together.

Things did not look promising heading into Thursday evening’s game against a Thrashers squad that came into the night as one of the hottest teams in the league and leading the Southeast division. However, Shawn Thornton set the tone for Boston just two seconds into the game, as he dropped the gloves with Atlanta’s Eric Boulton and engaged in a lengthy fight in which neither player could get the other to the ice. What some thought of as a desperate move by a team searching for a boost proved to be just the spark the Bruins needed.

Thornton wasn’t finished. The Bruins’ enforcer also netted two goals to solidify the win for Boston, in front of a vintage Beantown crowd that completed the first calendar year of sellouts for the Bruins since 1972.

The fourth liner provided more than just a couple of goals and a spark—he set an example for the entire organization to follow. The same guy who reportedly practiced with a chip on his shoulder all week came into this game determined to send a message. That message: any team that comes to Boston better be ready for a battle.

The rest of the team seemed to follow Thorton’s lead. With a little under five minutes to play, the Bruins came to the defense of Milan Lucic, who suffered a cheap shot at the hands of Freddy Meyer. Lucic’s linemates immediately stuck up for their teammate as a line brawl broke out.

The reaction by the Bruins was drastically different than the lifeless response they had to the vicious hit Marc Savard received last season against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Have the Bruins turned a corner? Are they finally starting to develop a championship attitude?

These questions have not yet been answered, but the Bruins took a big step in the right direction with the way they played against Atlanta.

In addition, Claude Julien appears to have lived to fight another day. The veteran head coach, who many thought had lost his team, got something of a Christmas miracle with the play of a certain 33-year-old journeyman.

Julien and the Bruins are not out of the woods yet, but there is certainly reason for optimism heading into the holiday season in the hub of hockey, after a gutsy victory against a legitimate Eastern Conference contender. Shawn Thornton not only saved Julien’s job and the Bruins’ season—he saved Christmas.