Rarely has a collection of professional athletes reached deep down inside its collective belly and fired its emotions into overdrive as the Bruins did last night at the Garden.

Here they were, in their dressing room between the first and second periods of Game 3 in the Stanley Cup finals, thinking not of the 0-0 tie, or of those two losses in Vancouver, but of the sobering reality that teammate Nathan Horton had long since been strapped to a gurney and rushed to Mass. General Hospital.

The hit on Horton by Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome was as cheap and as vicious as they come, the kind of blind-side special that can end a career. But having already been delivered some good news about Horton — that he was moving all of his extremities — the Bruins now had a decision to make: What would they do about it?

They decided to play hockey. And did they ever. By the time this thunderously one-sided game was in the books, the Bruins had skated to an 8-1 victory against the Canucks, ending any fears Bruins fans might have had that Vancouver would use the Garden ice to complete a four-game sweep in the Cup finals.

Did the cheap shot on Horton inspire the Bruins?

"He's been one of if not our best forward throughout the playoffs," said Milan Lucic, speaking his words from in front of Horton's locker. Look a little closer, and you could see that the boys' tacky, much-loved "Game Jacket" was hanging on that locker, a symbolic high five from Horton's teammates.

"It was good to hear in the first intermission that he was doing OK," Lucic said. "And it was definitely something that he would have wanted — for us to step up and get that win for him."

Rome was burned for the hit on Horton, slapped with a game misconduct. Today, both teams will await news from the NHL about further disciplinary action.

But while Rome was the vehicle of intended destruction that resulted in Horton crumpling to the ice, the NHL itself shares some of the responsibility for what happened. Remember Game 1, when Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron got into a tussle with Canucks forward Alex Burrows? There's just no other way to put this: Burrows bit Bergeron's finger. You saw it, I saw it, anybody with access to a television or computer saw it.