With 13 seconds remaining, Zdeno Chara snapped a shot over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove to give the Bruins a 3-2 come-from-behind win at TD Garden. Just 76 seconds earlier, David Krejci started the rally by scoring the game-tying goal.
The result will not be what either team remembers from the game. The lasting outcome was an assault that left Brooks Orpik on a stretcher, Shawn Thornton tossed from the game, and a hammer of a suspension anticipated for the Boston enforcer.
“Obviously real happy we were able to score those late goals and win this hockey game,” said coach Claude Julien. “At the same time, it kind of got tarnished a little bit. It’s a real unfortunate situation. The only thing I’m going to say is let’s not just look one way here. There’s a lot of blame to go all around. We all have to take responsibility for that.”
Thornton will have an in-person hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan at an undisclosed time and location. Thornton could be suspended for six or more games.
Thornton’s implosion took place after a whistle at 11:06 of the first period. James Neal had been nabbed for kneeing Brad Marchand, who had just tripped, in the back of the head. At the other end, Thornton tried, for the second time, to resolve a situation he believed required attention.
The play Thornton didn’t like took place on the opening shift. Loui Eriksson had turned to play a puck that rimmed around the wall in the Boston zone. As the puck skittered past Eriksson, Orpik walloped the winger with a body check. Eriksson never saw Orpik. A woozy Eriksson slowly got up, skated to the bench, and eventually left the ice.
Eriksson was diagnosed with a concussion, his second in less than two months. Eriksson missed five games after absorbing a blindside hit from John Scott Oct. 23.
“I think the hit by Orpik is a good hockey hit,” said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma. “Eriksson touches the puck, the puck’s coming around the wall there. It does take a strange bounce. He does touch the puck, and it’s a good hit. Clearly they took exception to it. They put people on the ice to take exception to it. In the events that ensued, you saw Thornton.”
Later in the first, Thornton tried to fight Orpik. Orpik declined. Thornton was called for roughing. Chris Kunitz scored with Thornton in the box to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
Thornton tried again with Orpik. This time, Thornton didn’t ask.
Thornton yanked down Orpik and drove the back of Orpik’s head into the ice. Thornton then punched Orpik several times before linesmen Derek Amell and Andy McElman intervened. By then, Orpik’s teammates recognized he was in trouble. According to Bylsma, Orpik initially lost consciousness, signaling he had suffered a concussion. It did not take long for Patrice Bergeron to help pull a stretcher onto the ice.
Orpik was wheeled off the ice and taken to Massachusetts General Hospital. He was conscious and alert at the hospital and was cleared to travel with the team back to Pittsburgh after the game.
“I feel awful,” Thornton said. “It wasn’t my intention for that outcome. I know Brooksie. I’ve gotten to know him over the last seven years here. I skate with him in the summer and through the lockout. I’ve texted him a couple times. I feel awful. It’s not what I wanted to see or what anybody wanted to see.”
Thornton was given a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure. Thornton was automatically suspended because of the match penalty.
Thornton will be judged for his violation of Rule 48.2. Under the rule, Thornton is classified as an aggressor who continued to punch to inflict punishment on an opponent who was in a defenseless position or was an unwilling combatant.
Thornton has never been suspended. But Orpik’s injury and the clear escalation of events that led to the attack will not work in Thornton’s favor.
“It’s always my job to defend my teammates,” Thornton said. “I’ve prided myself for a long time to stay within the lines. It’s hard for me to talk about it right now. I can’t say I’m sorry enough. I’m sure I’ll be criticized for saying it. But it’s true. I hope he’s doing all right. I heard he’s conscious and talking. I’m happy to hear that.”
While medical personnel treated Orpik, a NESN camera caught Julien yelling at someone on the Pittsburgh bench. After the game, Julien did not address Thornton’s attack directly. But Julien did not believe his team was solely to blame for the incident.
“There’s two teams that have to be honest and say it’s not the kind of hockey you like to see in the first period,” Julien said. “There’s people that are injured. We don’t want to see those kinds of injuries. Simple as that. It takes two to [tango] as you know. If one team is saying it’s not my fault, then they obviously have to look at the tape and see. There’s two teams that are responsible for what happened tonight. We’ve got to take that responsibility. The league will deal with it and go from there. Those are unfortunate incidents when you see guys get injured. That’s called Eriksson and it’s also called Orpik. Those are two injuries you don’t like to see in our game.”