Physical play returns for Bruins

There was an element that was missing from the Stanley Cup Finals before Monday night’s Game 3 matchup between the Bruins and Canucks. The physicality that has been so crucial to Boston’s success seemed to be as absent as their offense in the beginning of the series. With the talent on Vancouver’s bench, the Bruins could no longer afford to play in an absolutely conservative manner.

So they brought Shawn Thornton in to play.

While that’s not necessarily the pinpoint answer to the how the Bruins managed an 8-1 victory over the Canucks in Game 3 after falling in the first two games, it certainly raises the question of how important the physical aspect of the game is for this team.

“[Thornton] has a physical, veteran presence,” Bruins forward Mark Recchi said. “He’s won a Cup before. He knows what it takes. He’s a great leader in the dressing room. He’s a big guy that can skate well. He gets in on the forecheck. He’s a presence, and that’s important. When you have a big, physical team on the other side like that, you know you got to match that.”

The Bruins had their match set before them before too long Monday night. Just over five minutes into the game, Vancouver’s Aaron Rome put a late open-ice hit on Bruins forward Nathan Horton, which sent Horton crashing head-first into the ice. Horton remained motionless while the stretcher came out and was immediately taken to the hospital. Reports later came out that he could move his extremities and was alert, but he was staying overnight for observations.

TD Garden remained stunned for quite a while, with the players and fans not really knowing how to react or continue. But that all changed in the second period when the Bruins came out with a new sense of purpose and urgency — and they didn’t shy away from the boards.

“He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” Thornton said of Horton. “He’s always happy, he’s always in a good mood, he brings a smile to everyone’s face. He’s so positive. So to see any teammate go down, you want to band together for him, but especially for a guy like him who has been such a positive influence on this squad all year.”

To start, just 11 seconds into the second period, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference found the back of the net with a shot from the blueline. Just moments after, the tone continued to be set when Ference laid a big hit on Canucks forward Chris Higgins, right into the boards behind Bruins goalie Tim Thomas’ net — a check that sent the entire Garden into a frenzy.

The physical nature continued to improve for the Bruins, with scruffs after whistles and even a couple of taunts towards each other. In the third period, after the Bruins netted the puck four times in the second, Bruins forward Milan Lucic took direct offense to an apparent slash the Canucks’ Alex Burrows put on Thomas. Lucic grappled with Burrows, and, when the referee came to break it up, Lucic offered Burrows his fingers to gnaw on — an obvious jab at an earlier finger issue in Game 1 between Burrows and Patrice Bergeron.

Though he later called his own actions “classless,” Lucic also mentioned how important it was for his team to provide the physical presence for this game, and for the rest of the series moving on.

“Yeah, I talked about it yesterday, and I talked about it this morning, that when we play physical and bring that presence, we’re playing our type of game,” Lucic said. “I also said that I wasn’t surprised that [Vancouver] came out physical and they’re not going to shy away from anything. They aren’t shying away from anything, and you can expect the physicality to keep on being there.”

With seven misconducts and one game misconduct, the game grew chippy very quickly, and with the game ending with three goals in the final three minutes of the game, there will be much more to come on Wednesday night in Boston. Lucic noted that while the goals were plentiful in Game 3, there is no guarantee that that will be the case on Wednesday.

“In the end, it’s just a win,” Lucic said. “We treated this almost like a Game 7, to get ourselves back into it, and I think we’ve got to go about it (like that) next game. It doesn’t matter that we won 8-1. In the end, you win by seven or you win by one, a win’s a win. You can’t let it get too high, you’ve got get refocused and look forward to the next game.”