On Saturday night, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins added another grizzly chapter to their recent rivalry. The big story in this game should have been about the Bruins remarkable third period comeback that saw the black and gold score two goals in the games' final two minutes.
The tough reality is that the biggest story in this game was actually about the antics of Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton. In the first period, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik delivered a questionable hit to Bruins forward Louis Eriksson, who did not return.
Thornton then challenged Orpik to fight, but Orpik refused. Later, when Pens forward James Neal appeared to knee an injured Brad Marchand in the head, Thornton didn't waste time with pleasantries.
The Bruins' tough guy skated down the ice and beat an unawares Orpik to the ice, immediately knocking him out against the ice surface. Orpik was carted off the ice on a stretcher (amidst cheers from the Boston crowd) to Massachusetts General Hospital, and Thornton was given a match penalty.
We covered the Thornton situation here, but it is also important to remember that this was an exciting game between two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
1) Bruins find a way score late comeback
Coming into this one, the Penguins were on a scorching five-game winning streak, and in the first two and a half periods they were clearly the superior team. Still, it's hard not to like the Bruins tenacity late in the game.
With a minute and a half to go in the third, David Krejci found a loose puck in the slot and beat Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Then, with 13 seconds to go, Riley Smith found a wide open Zdeno Chara at the point, who then proceeded to sniped a wrist shot past the glove past Fleury.
"It was playoff-kind of hockey," Chara said. "We were behind that whole game and fighting for that tying goal. Eventually we got it and carried that momentum through the rest of the game, and we were able to score the goal."
2) The injury list gets longer for the Bruins
Before this game started, Boston was already without defensemen Adam McQuaid (groin) and Johnny Boychuck (back spasms) and Torey Krug. All three of those players should be back relatively soon, but given what transpired on Saturday night, reinforcements couldn't come soon enough.
Brooks Orpik's high hit on Louis Eriksson has given the troubled winger his second concussion of the season. Up to this point, Eriksson had finally started to get back into a grove after enduring his first concussion from Sabres forward John Scott. Now, with the proximity of these two blows to the head, it is unclear when Eriksson will return.
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, they did. According to TSN, Bruins center Chris Kelly has been diagnosed with a broken ankle after taking a slash from Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis.
Kelly hasn't had a great season, recording just 7 points in 29 games, but the veteran has proven to be a valuable center on the dot, as well as the penalty kill. No timetable is set for his return.
3) Riley Smith continues to shine
For a player that was questionable to make the roster coming into camp, Riley Smith has sure proved all of the doubters wrong. Against the Penguins, Smith had a goal in the first period, and set up Chara's game winning goal with a crisp feed from the corner.
Smith is currently third on the team in points, and has fit into coach Claude Julien's two-way system seamlessly. More importantly, with Eriksson and now Chris Kelly out with serious injuries, the continued production from Smith is going to be more important than ever.
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