The growing rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins, two of the Eastern Conference's best teams -- and two teams that know the road to the Stanley Cup Final goes through the other -- has been mostly a treat to watch.
But on Saturday, it took a truly ugly turn.
Midway through the first period, Shawn Thornton, looking for a fight with Brooks Orpik, plucked the Penguins' defenceman from a scrum and started delivering blows. The problem: in between these two actions, Orpik lost his balance and fell to the ice.
Thornton started hitting him anyway. Orpik left the game on a stretcher.
Shades of Todd Bertuzzi -- the definition of a moment that's gone too far.
Thornton left the game as well after being assessed a match penalty, and he won't be back for awhile. The look on his face as he's led away says it all. He's as concerned for Orpik as anyone else, and he knows it's his fault.
Here's another look at the punches:
Suffice it to say, this is unconscionable and disgusting.
It's also a total head-scratcher when you consider Thornton's words on "the code" from just three days ago. From ESPN:
I take a lot of pride in that. I do. People could probably criticize that I’m a little too honorable, I suppose, in some instances. I've been a firm believer my whole life that what goes around comes around. If you’re one of those guys that suckers someone when they’re down or you go after somebody that doesn’t deserve it or isn’t the same category as you, that will come back and bite you at some point, too.
And then this. Amazing.
Even Joe Haggerty, who's usually a pretty big supporter of Thornton, had nothing good to say about the scene.
No excuse for what Shawn Thornton did there. Looked to me like he completely lost it after couple borderline hits from Penguins. Cant happen
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) December 8, 2013
Expect the Department of Player Safety to be swift and harsh here. This could be a big suspension. Thornton's saving grace: he has no prior history. But when you're at the center of something like this, I'm not sure it matters. Expect the hearing to be in-person, at the very least.
So what set Thornton off in the first place?
Earlier in the game, Orpik delivered a huge hit to Loui Erikkson, sending the Bruins' winger to the dressing room in a state of distress. It had the look of a clean hit, and Orpik didn't receive a penalty on the play, but that doesn't mean much these days. Thornton challenged Orpik to a fight -- the Penguins' blueliner politely declined.
Later in the first, as you can see in the above video, James Neal delivered a hit that was far less clean, catching Brad Marchand in the head with his knee while the Bruins' winger was down. That too will likely be looked at closely by the Department because it's damn despicable. He's lucky Marchand left the ice without medical assistance. That's reckless and malicious and equally deserving of an in-person hearing.
This is pretty much exactly what your enforcer is for. If a team takes liberties with your guys, and that's exactly what the Neal hit appeared to be, the enforcer's job, for better or for worse, is to step up. So, clearly feeling enough was enough, Thornton went into the ensuing scrum to extract a pound of flesh.
But the result was one of hockey's scariest scenes of the year.
Update: the Penguins on Orpik's condition:
Orpik has returned from the hospital and will be traveling with the team back to Pittsburgh, per #Pens coach Bylsma.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 8, 2013
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