The Penguins have moved into a new building this season, leaving behind the famed Igloo where they won three Stanley Cups. That old barn was also the sight of one of hockey’s darkest moments, when Pittsburgh cheap-shot artist Matt Cooke delivered his most diabolical hit yet, blindsiding Bruins center Marc Savard with a viscous blow to the head back on March 7.
The Bruins return to Pittsburgh for the first time since that incident on Wednesday, and while the first matchup of the year will take place in the new Consol Energy Center, the bad blood from that final trip to the Igloo still hangs over both teams.
Savard won’t be making the trip, as he remains sidelined with post-concussion syndrome symptoms. Cooke, though, will be there, ready with a stick or an elbow as always, but unlikely to take up any of the Bruins’ offers to settle things with the gloves off.
And while the Bruins would love to exact a more satisfying measure of revenge on Cooke than the handful of rights Shawn Thornton was able to land in the first rematch between the clubs on March 18, they also know they have to worry about winning the game.
Boston has lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, and they can’t allow their quest to punish Cooke cost them another two points as they open a key stretch of three games in four nights against conference opponents.
“We were too focused on one thing and it was the wrong thing,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic of the 3-0 loss to the Penguins in the “revenge game” last season. “Obviously you want to do whatever you can to stick up for your teammate, but also you’ve got to focus on the task at hand. We know how important this little stretch is with these next three games against some key opponents. We have a chance here to move up in the standings and take first in the division. I think that’s the most important thing for us right now and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Boston Bruins (7-3-1, 15 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (7-7-1, 15 points)
Nov. 10, 7 p.m. (NESN)
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Penn.
This is the first of four meetings this season between the Bruins and Penguins. Boston holds a 100-53-21-4 edge in the all-time series, including a slim 38-35-15-2 advantage in Pittsburgh. But the Bruins were just 1-2-1 against the Penguins last year, including a 2-1 loss in their last trip to Pittsburgh when Cooke delivered his cheap shot on Savard and an embarrassing 3-0 defeat at home in the rematch 11 days later.
Tim Thomas is the first Bruins goalie ever to start a season 7-0-0, but was pulled from his last start after allowing three goals on 25 shots in two periods in Washington on Friday. He didn’t factor in the decision though, and remains undefeated on the year with a stellar 1.04 GAA, .967 save percentage and three shutouts. He’s 6-4-3 with a 2.62 GAA and a .906 save percentage in his career against Pittsburgh. Tuukka Rask remains winless, but was sharp in a 2-1 shootout loss to St. Louis on Saturday. He’s 0-3-1 with a 2.62 GAA and a .921 save percentage on the year, while losing his lone start against the Penguins, allowing three goals on 31 shots in the March 18 rematch last year.
Pittsburgh’s starter Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled mightily this season, going 1-6-0 with a 3.54 GAA and an. 853 save percentage. He was pulled from his last start Saturday in Phoenix after allowing two goals on five shots in seven minutes. Brent Johnson is in the process of supplanting Fleury as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 netminder. He’s 6-1-1 with a 1.62 GAA and a .943 save percentage this year, though just 4-3-1 with a 2.96 GAA and a .906 save percentage in his career against Boston. Fleury is 5-3-2 with a 2.23 GAA, a .928 save percentage and two shutouts in 11 games against the Bruins.
The Penguins have plenty of New England ties, with defensemen Brooks Orpik (Braintree, Mass./Boston College) and Ben Lovejoy (Canaan, N.H./Dartmouth) and forward Craig Adams (Harvard), along with assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald (Billerica, Mass.), who also played for the Bruins in 2005-06. Current Bruins Mark Recchi and Andrew Ference each began their NHL careers in Pittsburgh. Recchi spent three stints with the Penguins from 1988-92, 2005-06 and 2006-08, while Ference played there from 1999-2003.
The Penguins are second in the league with 16 fighting majors in 15 games. The Bruins are the only other team in the East with more fights than games played at 12 through 11 games. Think these clubs may have been warming up for each other? There’s no lack of bad blood between the Bruins and Pens since Cooke’s cheap shot on Savard. Cooke did accept Thornton’s challenge to a fight in the rematch, but few Bruins fans felt that was enough retribution. Zdeno Chara had his only fight of the season in that same game, taking on Michael Rupp, while Byron Bitz battled Deryk Engelland in the only fight in the three prior games last season. Engelland leads the Penguins with six fights this year, including a surprising knockout of Toronto’s Colton Orr. Rupp has two fighting majors, while eight players each have one, including Sidney Crosby and heavyweight Eric Godard. Mark Stuart leads the Bruins with three fighting majors, while Greg Campbell and Lucic each have two. Five other each have one, including Thornton, but those numbers could go up on Wednesday.
The Bruins will try to snap a two-game skid after falling to Washington and St. Louis in their last two games. They came out flat against the Capitals, but rallied in the third before falling, then played well in a shootout loss to the red-hot Blues. Getting up for Wednesday’s showdown with the Penguins shouldn’t be a problem, but controlling that emotion and channeling it in a positive direction could be more of an issue. The Bruins’ first priority is to come out of Pittsburgh with two more points in the standings, but they certainly wouldn’t mind getting in a few shots on Cooke along the way.