BOSTON — San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton is hoping his stint in tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden lasts longer than the last time he visited the Hub.

That night, Jan. 10, 2006, Thornton lasted just 5:13 of game action until he was ejected for hitting Hal Gill from behind. While Bruins fans might’ve cheered Thornton’s leveling of the less-than-popular defenseman back then, they’ll no doubt show some love and some hate for Thornton tonight. But it might be tough for Thornton to stick around because the same referee that ejected him three years ago, Chris Rooney, will be working tonight’s game.

“We actually talked about it last week, we had a good laugh about it. So it should be an interesting pair again tonight,” said Thornton after the Sharks finished their morning skate.

MoreĀ  important than Thornton’s return is that tonight’s game is the battle of the two best teams in the NHL. Thornton, whose Sharks teams have been in the playoffs every year since he first donned teal and white, isn’t surprised that Boston has shot to the top of the Eastern Conference after struggling in the aftermath of the trade.

“I think really in the new NHL, I think you can rebuild a team within in a year, to be honest with you,” he said. “You can roll over, get some new, young players and be great the next year. So it’s not unthinkable over there.”