BOSTON (AP)—Joe Thornton’s much anticipated return to Boston ended quickly.
The Bruins former captain was ejected less than six minutes into Tuesday night’s game for checking his close friend Hal Gill from behind. San Jose still dominated 6-2 without the league’s fourth leading scorer as Josh Langfeld scored his first two goals of the season and the Sharks added three power-play goals.
Thornton was “in shock” that he got a game misconduct and an automatic ejection 5:13 into the game. Even Gill was surprised.
“Maybe it’s a penalty, maybe it isn’t,” said Gill, who suffered a pinched nerve in his left shoulder and didn’t return. “I think what he got was too much.”
So did Sharks coach Ron Wilson.
“Everybody’s been waiting for this game and Joe didn’t last but two shifts,” said Wilson, who also was “shocked” by the call. “What’s even worse is we won’t be back here for three years so the Bruin fans and all his buddies won’t see him for three years here in Boston. That’s a shame.”
Gill said Thornton apologized to him. The defenseman also said he braced for the hit in the corner to the left of Boston’s net but was in an awkward position. Thornton hit him partly on his left side and partly on his back and Gill went to the ice.
Referee Chris Rooney said NHL rules call for a game misconduct on such plays.
“From my view, where I’m standing on the ice, it’s a direct hit from behind,” Rooney said. “The player that got hit is defenseless.”
So was his team.
The Bruins had traded Thornton to San Jose on Nov. 30 to improve their defense by picking up defenseman Brad Stuart, defensive forward Wayne Primeau and left wing Marco Sturm in the deal between last-place teams.
But San Jose led 2-1 after one period then made it 5-1 after two on power-play goals by Scott Hannan, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo. After Cheechoo’s 24th goal of the season made it 5-1, Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft was replaced by Tim Thomas with 3:41 left in the second period.
“They beat us in every aspect of the game,” Boston coach Mike Sullivan said. “I saw guys do things tonight I’ve never seen all year.”
Without Thornton, the NHL’s leader in assists, the Bruins didn’t get much offense, scoring only on Milan Jurcina’s goals that made it 2-1 on a power play with 14:39 gone in the first period and 6-2 with 1:56 left in the game .
His first goal came nearly 10 minutes after Thornton’s ejection. He and Gill had been teammates since they were rookies in 1997-98.
Gill fell to the ice, reached with his left hand toward his right shoulder and rolled over. He got up and went directly to Boston’s locker room.
The crowd, which gave Thornton a loud ovation when he was introduced before the game, was subdued when Gill and Thornton left the ice.
“I was excited about coming back,” Thornton said. “It was unfortunate I couldn’t play the whole game.”
San Jose won its fourth consecutive game and ended Boston’s winning streak at two.
“Maybe they went on more emotion losing him and trying to get a win for him. We just didn’t play well,” Boston’s Glen Murray said. “It was a stinker.”
Raycroft had made saves on shots by Langfeld and Mark Smith before Langfeld scored on the second rebound 3:15 into the game. Langfeld then scored on a shorthanded goal nearly 10 minutes later.
Hannan made it 3-1 and the Sharks needed little time to score after two Bruins penalties later in the second period.
Marleau got his 17th goal just 11 seconds after Andrew Alberts was penalized for boarding. Then Cheechoo made it 5-1 seven seconds after a hooking penalty against Jurcina.
San Jose is now 11-0 when it scores the first two goals of a game and Langfeld got both of them Tuesday. … At the time of the trade, the Bruins had lost nine of their previous 10 games, while the Sharks were in an 0-7-3 slump. Boston won its first two games after the trade and San Jose won its first six.