Thornton lauds Leafs coach Carlyle

BOSTON -- Bruins forward Shawn Thornton won his first Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, playing for a head coach, Randy Carlyle, who expected hard work and physical play from his players. The Ducks delivered on both fronts, playing with a lunch-pail mentality and leading the league in penalty minutes.

On Wednesday, Thornton and his Bruins teammates will play a similar team coached by Carlyle. In about six months as head coach of the Maple Leafs, Carlyle has transformed the Leafs into a physical, hard-working team whose young stars are finally realizing their potential. The result so far is a fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and the organization's first playoff appearance since 2004.

Carlyle was hired by the Leafs on March 3, 2012. Toronto faced the Bruins in his second game as head coach.

"I remember running into him in the lobby of the Westin," Thornton recalled. "I knew right away he would help them. I didn't know their former coach [Ron Wilson] that much. But I knew Randy, from playing for him, that he would get the most out of his players."

Carlyle has done just that, but Thornton also was familiar with the man who helped construct the roster Carlyle inherited. Former Leafs general manager Brian Burke was the GM of that Cup-winning team in Anaheim. Thornton sees Burke's fingerprints all over this current Leafs squad.

"A lot of the pieces that Burkie put in place are there now and they're playing the way he wanted them to play," Thornton said. "He deserves a lot of credit."

Thornton is happy for his ex-coach and knows that he and his Bruins teammates are in for a physical, hard series against this rejuvenated team.

"I'm sure he's a big part of it," Thornton said of his former bench boss. "He's an extremely smart coach. He demands a solid work ethic. I think he'll have them going at the top of their ability, that's for sure. They're a skilled team that plays big and tough. They're built a certain way, and they play that way and to their style."