Florida Panthers

It’s last call for Shawn Thornton as final NHL games beckon

Florida forward Shawn Thornton celebrates a goal against Minnesota on Nov. 24, 2014.
Florida forward Shawn Thornton celebrates a goal against Minnesota on Nov. 24, 2014. AP

Shawn Thornton admits he has been soaking in the moment.

In playing in Toronto last week, Thornton drew it all in.

In Boston, his home for seven seasons as a hockey player and where he makes his offseason residence, Thornton made the most of a quick visit.

And this week, his final one as a professional hockey player, Thornton is enjoying every minute.

Saturday, he says, will be his final NHL game. Although the Panthers will end their season Sunday in Washington, it doesn’t sound like Thornton plans on being there.

A bottle of Scotch given to him by teammates will be part of his postgame celebration and time of reflection Saturday night.

“I’ll go home and have a big glass of Scotch,” said Thornton, who was given his top-shelf bottle after playing in his 600th NHL game two seasons ago.

“I’ll probably just relax. My parents are coming into town from Tampa, a couple of friends are coming in. I’ll probably hang out with them for a bit, tell some lies, tell some stories. Then I’ll wake up Sunday with a bit of a hangover and wonder what I’m going to do for the next couple of months.”

Some wondered if Saturday’s game in Boston may be Thornton’s final.

Although Boston remains near and dear to him, the Panthers do as well.

“That was very classy, a very emotional send off,” Thornton said of seeing former teammates. “But I have been a Panther for the past three years. I want to play my last home game right here, for sure.”

With Jussi Jokinen out, Thornton will be back in the lineup Thursday against St. Louis and then again Saturday against the Sabres.

Thornton will end his pro career with 705 NHL games and, impressively, 605 more in the minors. Thornton had many chances to quit this game and give up on his dream of making the NHL.

Only he stuck with it — and the game has rewarded him handsomely.

“I love it; I still have fun every day,” Thornton said. “I think that’s the key to guys who stick around a long time; we’re all having fun. ... I took a lot of punches in the face, logged a lot of miles on the bus. But then there were a lot of filets on charter flights. It’s the best job in the world and I am very fortunate I was able to do it for 20 years.”

Thornton won the Stanley Cup twice, first with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006 and again with the Bruins in 2011 — his performance in those Finals helping give him legendary status around Boston.

When the Bruins let him go in 2014, the Panthers were quick to offer him a two-year deal he figured would be his last.

Then, co-owner Doug Cifu surprised him with one more year. If Thornton thought he could get another year out of the Panthers, he would give it thought.

Only when it’s done, Thornton says he will stay with the Panthers. Working with CEO and team president Matthew Caldwell, Thornton will not go into broadcasting (yet) nor scouting as many thought, but move into the business side of the organization.

When he begins his new career is up in the air. Thornton is going to take some well deserved time off first.

“We have all agreed that I have earned a little break,” said Thornton, the Florida nominee for the annual Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy which goes to a player who best shows ‘perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.’

“We will figure out when I come back in. This year was a bonus year to be quite honest. Last year I was thinking about going back to Boston and doing TV and community service or stay here and move into the front office. It was decided that moving into the business side of things interested me the most.”

▪ As Thornton wraps up his NHL career, rookie defenseman Ian McCoshen gets his going Thursday night as he plays in his first game.

“I’m not too nervous, yet,” McCoshen said.

Thursday: Blues at Panthers

When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.

TV/radio: SUN; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.

Series: St. Louis leads 20-9-3.

Scouting report: The Blues have three games left before embarking on the playoffs and come into Thursday’s game with the Panthers ranked in the top half of the league in penalty kill (6th), power play (8th), goals against (12th) and goals per-game (13th). The Blues clinched a playoff spot yet come into Thursday a point up on both Nashville for third in the Central Division.