EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Captain Joe Thornton was nowhere to be found yesterday when the Bruins wrapped up the regular season and the Northeast Division crown with a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Whether he will be available to start the playoffs Wednesday when the club hosts its archrival -- the Montreal Canadiens -- in Game 1 of the opening round remains to be seen.
Thornton, who was hurt Thursday night in Boston's 3-3 tie with the Washington Capitals, didn't make the trip. The team and player have referred to his ailment as "an upper-body injury," but it's believed to be bruised ribs.
When asked if Thornton had any shot at playing yesterday, coach Mike Sullivan responded, "Sure, he did. He had a shot."
Well, maybe if his stick was 250 miles long. Truth be told, it's not known if he'll be ready to start the playoffs.
"We'll make that decision when we have to," said Sullivan.
His teammates soldiered on, playing a far better game yesterday than the dismal performance on Saturday [5-2 loss to Devils]. Veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell said he thinks Thornton's absence had a detrimental effect on the team Saturday.
"I'd like to say no," he said. "As a professional, you're supposed to say it doesn't matter who's in or out, but you rely on him for so much and you look to him for so much. You try to tell yourself, `We've still got 20 guys in here' but it doesn't happen right away.
"You're still [wondering], `What's going to happen? Is he going to be OK? You have [Patrice Bergeron] playing center on the top line now, where he was playing wing all year. It's just a little bit of an adjustment period of mentally playing without [Thornton]. The more time goes on, you start to realize that, hey, we can still get it done here."
O'Donnell said they felt it was imperative to finish the season strong, not only because they wanted to win the division and get home ice, but because they needed to prove they had their legs under them after losing Thornton. "That's why I think [yesterday's] game was such a huge one going into the playoffs," he said. "To come in and play a game like this without Joe was a huge shot in the arm for our team."Not quick on draw As badly as the Bruins outplayed New Jersey, they were atrocious on faceoffs and miss Thornton in that department. Boston won only 20 draws and lost a whopping 37 . . . Since returning from a rib injury, Sergei Samsonov had six goals in nine games to end the year . . . Marty Lapointe's three-game point streak was snapped . . . Michael Nylander ended the season with points in three straight contests, including a pair of assists yesterday. Travis Green also ended the year with points in three straight, including a goal yesterday . . . Defenseman Brian Rafalski returned to the Devils' lineup after missing 12 games because of a broken right leg.