RALEIGH — One of the rocks of the Boston Bruins’ remarkable 2008-09 regular season, winger Shawn Thornton was never a healthy scratch and only missed three games due to injury.
But with the Bruins down two games to one entering tonight’s Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with Carolina at RBC Center, head coach Claude Julien decided it was time for rookie Byron Bitz to get a crack at the Hurricanes for the first time in the series.
The move worked on an individual basis, as Bitz was solid for 9:41 of ice time spent mostly on the fourth line alongside P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle. Bitz fired one shot on net, threw two hits and won two draws. But it wasn’t enough to help the Bruins avoid a 4-1 loss in the game and a 1-3 deficit in the series.
After the game, Julien explained his decision to replace Thornton with Bitz.
“We just felt that putting Byron in, who’s played well for us, and we felt he’s strong along the boards, he can create some things offensively, and you saw him do that tonight. So it was a decision that we made,” said the coach. “It had nothing to do with Shawn except that we had to make some room for Bitzy and we felt that being in Shawn’s spot would probably give that line maybe a little bit more offense. And I thought he did a great job, to the point where I kind of gave him some shifts on the (David) Krejci line because I liked his will to win battles along the boards, which he did well.”
Bitz certainly did enough to earn a lineup spot again Sunday. Whether he’ll be in for Thornton or another forward, or back on the sidelines, will be determined as the puck drop for Sunday’s do-or-die Game 5 draws near.