BOSTON -- The last time the Dallas Stars were in TD Garden, on Nov. 1, 2008, the Boston Bruins won 5-1 in a turbulent affair in which the teams combined for 146 penalty minutes and an all-out brawl involving all five positional players aside in the third period.
The teams renewed their gripes Thursday night and wasted no time doing so in a 6-3 Bruins win before a very entertained sellout crowd.
Gregory Campbell dropped the gloves with Steve Ott one second in, Shawn Thornton and Krys Barch did the tango a second later, Adam McQuaid dropped Brian Sutherby two seconds later and just for good measure, Andrew Ference fought Adam Burish after Burish let a shot go on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (30 saves) after a whistle at 3:51.
Bruins coach Claude Julien had an inkling this one could get physical, and when he saw that the Stars' starting lineup included Adam Burish and agitator Ott, he knew he was right. So Julien sent out the Bruins' energy line of Daniel Paille, Campbell and Thornton, and the donnybrook was on.
"Well, usually against Dallas, it's always interesting here in this building and we always have interesting games," Julien said. "When we got their starting lineup and their top two lines weren't on, we knew they wanted to obviously start with a physical edge to their game and we were ready for that."
The Bruins got the physical edge and momentum from the early fights, as they scored twice in the first 1:20 with goals from Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic and then added two more in the first period on another Bergeron goal and one from Thornton.
That, according to Andrew Ference and his teammates, is what made the opening fights and physicality worth it.
"The fights are one thing, but after the fights, to respond with some really good goals and I think a really good first period, that's the impressive thing," Ference said. "You know, anybody can go out there and drop the gloves and fight and do all that stuff, but to follow it up with really good hockey is what makes you successful.
"It's totally meaningless and you can't just do it with no emotion," Ference went on. "You can tell, you know that people that watch enough hockey, they can tell when it's just a fight for a fight. But those for whatever reason it was amped up tonight. I mean, guys were full of piss and vinegar and I don't know why, but it was just the way it was. Just to be emotionally invested and to know that's such a vital part of our game, it's good to see and it's another lesson learned. We don't need just fights, we need that willingness to win and play for each other."
And Ference knows the crowd enjoyed every minute of the fights.
"It's great and it's a good part of our sport," Ference said of fighting. "I don't think people left the game disgusted, and that's the way it is. It was crazy. To have that many goals and that much excitement -- and some good goals, too -- it had it all."
There may have been one fight -- even though the combatants wouldn't admit it -- that had a little extra incentive involved. On March 28, 2009, while playing for the Florida Panthers, Campbell was the recipient of an Ott cheap shot, as the Stars forward took a running start and blindsided Campbell. The two dropped gloves immediately Thursday.
Campbell denied that the fight was revenge.
"No, not really," Campbell said. "I mean it was two years ago. I mean, a lot of things happen in hockey and if you hold on to something that happens two years ago, I don't think it does you much good. So, unfortunately, as much as you love to hate Steve Ott, he's a pretty valuable player for them and he plays hard but it wasn't something that I held a grudge over, though.
"I mean, I didn't think about it beforehand, but once the game started, like I said, there were a few words exchanged and that's what happened. But it wasn't something I had planned or I don't think the other guys had planned, either. It just happens."
But when all was said and done, this 2010-11 Bruins squad has proved on numerous occasions that it is a team and will stick together. Campbell alluded to that momentum and unity-building game Dec. 23 when Thornton dropped the gloves with Atlanta Thrashers enforcer Eric Boulton two seconds in and then later in the third period of the Bruins' 4-1 win.
"Well, for us, [Thursday's game] was kind of like the Atlanta game -- it was an emotional game for us, before Christmas, I should say," Campbell said. "We came out hard and we set the tone early, and I think that's what this hockey team is capable of, is playing physical but also we have the ability to score.
"And that's a good team over there. They have a great record and they have a lot of depth and they're playing well this year. So, for us to send a message -- I mean, if you look at our record against Western Conference teams, it hasn't been as good as we'd like. So we have a few games coming up against those teams and we wanted to start off on the right foot."
Now the Bruins must build on that team unity again and become a tighter bunch.
"We're a tight group; we've always said that and we all know that," Bergeron said. "We get along real well off the ice and we try to bring that on the ice. I think that Ference fight is the best example just by showing that [Burish] took a shot after the whistle on Tuukka and Andy responded right away. So I think it's ... it showed our unity, and we got to keep going."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.