Are big and bad finally back?

Could it be that big and bad are finally back?

The Bruins have been mocked for the ad campaign claiming that to be the case since their failure to retaliate to the cheap shot taken by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke to Marc Savard last Sunday. In a 5-1 win at Philadelphia Thursday night, the Bruins found their physical game against a more-disciplined but still-rugged Broad Street Bullies squad.

As always, when the Bruins are playing with an edge, all areas of their game improve -- as evidenced by their goal total Thursday, which was more than double their season average.

Leading the re-emergence of the big-and-bad mantra was defenseman Mark Stuart, who’s a future captain of the Black and Gold if ever there was one. Stuart not only fought two of the toughest players in the game -- Daniel Carcillo and Ian Laperriere -- but even finished those bouts with an edge in points.

When Carcillo tried to goad Stuart into a night-ending third fight in the third period, Shawn Thornton had Stuart’s back. And when Carcillo further tried to wreak havoc with his team down three goals, Matt Hunwick -- never mistaken for a fearsome force on Boston’s back end -- didn’t back down and tried to get at Carcillo before the linesmen pushed Philadelphia’s resident rowdy boy away from the scrum.

The Bruins got dynamic offensive play from Patrice Bergeron and sensational goaltending from Tuukka Rask. And Zdeno Chara’s few days off did wonders as he returned to Norris Trophy-winning form. But ultimately, the reason Boston earned a huge two points against a team just ahead of it in the Eastern Conference was that Stuart and his teammates sent the message early that they wouldn’t be pushed around.

It could be that a perfect confluence of factors ushered in the return of the old-school Bruins mentality. We know that general manager Peter Chiarelli, who said he was “disappointed” with his team’s non-response to Cooke, spoke to the club before the game. There’s no doubt the players got a tongue-lashing and also learned the bad news that Savard may not be back on the ice until next fall. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the sight of those orange-and-black uniforms is enough to make even the meekest of the other 29 NHL teams become unleashed monsters.

Whatever lit a spark under the Bruins, they have to hope they can carry it over for the rest of the season, beginning with the remaining three games on their current road trip. As presently constituted, the Bruins are only going to win enough games to get into the postseason if they duplicate Thursday night’s effort and energy each and every night.