Thornton/By S. Bradley

BOSTON – Shawn Thornton was in the same boat we all were tonight.

He didn’t know until after warm-ups that he would be in the lineup for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden.

If his name on the game sheet didn’t do enough to announce his presence once the puck dropped, he made sure everyone knew he’d returned with a hit on his first shift in the Bruins’ series-saving 8-1 rout of Vancouver.

The Canucks now lead the series just 2-1.

That it was Alex Burrows, who bit Patrice Bergeron in Game 1 and beat the Bruins with an overtime goal in Game 2, who Thornton hit, added the cherry to the sundae that was Thornton’s first game of the series after seven straight healthy scratches dating back to the Eastern Conference Final.

The crowd gave Thornton the type of rousing ovation typically reserved for superstars and goal-scorers.

“The fans have always been awesome to me here. That’s no secret. So I was very happy, very fortunate that the support was there,” said Thornton.

Boston fans are always “awesome” to hometown players that give them a reason to exude their love. If it wasn’t enough that Thornton moved to Boston full-time and immersed himself in the community and charitable endeavors, he’s the type of player every workingman in the Hub relates to.

He showed that blue-collar approach throughout the night despite any rust that might’ve settled on him during his off time – starting with that first shift.

“I haven’t played in a week and a half. I was fairly excited to get into this one tonight,” said Thornton, who logged 5:50 of ice time that seemed twice as long. “It didn’t take much. Usually I’m five or six coffees. It didn’t take that much to get me going tonight. I was pretty excited. I was fortunate to be able to get a hit on my first shift and kind got me in the game a bit.”

Thornton didn’t record a point. But he drew a penalty, recorded two hits and was chirping the Canucks’ bench enough to distract them at least a little bit until his mystery game misconduct ended his night with 12 minutes to go. Famous non-fighting agitator Maxim Lapierre, who flinched when Thornton faked throwing a hit into the bench area, even stood up and signaled to Thornton that he wanted to go.

Of course, we all know that was another fake-out.

“I don’t know. I don’t understand him,” said Thornton when asked about what was said.

If being down 2-0 in the series and playing off the emotion that came with losing teammate Nathan Horton to a head injury on a first-period hit – not to mention playing the first home Stanley Cup game in 21 years – wasn’t enough to jack the Bruins up, the return of Thornton threw everything into high gear.

“Yeah, you know Shawn definitely brings a lot of energy to this team,” said linemate Daniel Paille. “[He] says a lot of words and gets us going, especially when we’re feeling down on ourselves, so it was nice to see Thorty come in there and step in like he always did and I’m sure he’s happy with a game like that.”

The regular-season fights, the big hits and the occasional goals and appearances in Dropkick Murphys videos have already made Thornton a modern-day Garden legend. Last summer, he took less than market value as a free agent to stay with the Bruins long-term. His work with Cuts for a Cause and weekly morning radio appearances with Toucher and Rich have shown the many sides of his personality off the ice.

For a hockey player, however, there’s nothing like a defining game on a huge stage to solidify ones legacy. Regardless of how the rest of this series and Thornton’s career in Boston goes, Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final will always be one people will look back at as a “Thornton game.”

And to think he didn’t know he was going to have any game to play until the last possible minute.