BOSTON -- Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton's fight two seconds into the game turned out to be just the undercard.
Thornton also scored twice, setting a career high for goals in a season as the Bruins beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-1 on Thursday in a game that ended with a huge brawl that resulted in 96 penalty minutes.
It took the melee with 4:06 left to distract the fans from chanting for Thornton, the career tough guy who has seven goals for the first time in an NHL season.
"The fans have been unbelievable to me since I got here. Tonight was just another level," Thornton said. "It's been a long journey to get here. Not too many people get to hear their name chanted by 18,000 people. It's a pretty cool experience."
The Bruins had lost three of four and needed the win before heading out on a five-game road trip next week. They put on a fan-friendly show with Thornton's opening bout, his two goals and then a brawl somewhat reminiscent of the Bruins days at the old Boston Garden.
Thornton wasn't on the ice for this one, but Andrew Ference was and jumped Atlanta's Freddy Meyer after he took out Milan Lucic with a high hit. Ference left his gloves behind as he charged Meyer for a quick fight that sparked several others that left Ference with blood dripping from his right eye as he was led from the ice.
"I was following right behind so I had a really good view of it. The guy just put his stick and his hands right in Lucia's head," Ference said. "I saw it really clearly. It wasn't a clean hit at all."
Boston coach Claude Julien called it a "cheap shot" and said he hoped the league will review it as it sorts out any further discipline to the 10 players involved.
Only the goalies sat out the fracas as all 10 skaters on the ice went at it. Lucic was one of the first escorted off after landing a shot on Meyer when the players had packed together in between fights. Five players received game misconducts and Lucic was called for a match penalty.
"[Meyer] gets a penalty for a good hit and they started all the fights," Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. "I thought we should have had a power play for the rest of the game, maybe a two-man advantage because our guys just responded. Our guys didn't try to do anything."
Tim Thomas stopped 26 shots and improved to 16-4-3.
Dustin Byfuglien scored his 13th goal of the season for the Thrashers, who will host the rematch with the Bruins in a week. The way this one ended, both teams will be geared up for the next meeting -- or round.
Michael Ryder made it 2-0 Boston with a wrist shot off an assist from Patrice Bergeron with 15:56 left in the third, then 56 seconds later Thornton tied his career high with his sixth goal of the season.
Adam McQuaid dug the puck out of the corner and backhanded it to Thornton for a one-timer from the slot.
Thornton looked like a natural scorer again with 15:06 left in the game when he skated in alone, faked to his backhand and flipped the puck over sprawled out Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
The puck had barely hit the ice on the opening faceoff before it was joined by two pair of gloves as Thornton and Eric Boulton of Atlanta got in a fight just 2 seconds into the game. Thornton and Boulton exchanged swings for more than a minute before the linesmen separated them.
"He made sure that everybody knew we were ready to play and he was rewarded with some goals. The goals he earned as well. They weren't lucky ones. They were really good goals," Julien said. "He played a really good game for us tonight."
Bergeron had a goal and an assist for Boston, which outshot Atlanta 36-27. ... The Bruins' five-game road trip starts Monday at Florida. ... Bergeron's goal with 17:00 left in the first period snapped a scoreless streak of 105 minutes, 57 seconds for the Bruins.