Fans and media alike in Boston are calling for a bloodbath. They almost seem to care less if the Bruins waste two points and possibly miss the playoffs in order to get retribution on Matt Cooke, this generation’s version of Ulf Samuelsson, the former Penguin that laid a knee-to-knee hit on Cam Neely in the 1991 Western Conference finals. That hit eventually led to a debilitating knee and hip for Nelly, and his career was cut short.
But this is 2010. Unless retribution is carried out in the immediate aftermath of a dirty headshot like the one Cooke laid on Marc Savard (which essentially ended his season and probably the Bruins’ chances of making a playoff run, if they get in), it doesn't happen.
"I think, yeah, we were ready for something there and surprised, I guess," said Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, when asked if the Penguins expected mayhem at the time of the Cooke-Savard incident in Pittsburgh on March 7. "But it didn’t [happen], and we’ll be ready for tonight if it goes that way. But like I said, both teams need the points."
That has been the on-the-record mantra from both teams. Two points in the standings are what matters most, and in today’s NHL, retribution is tough to accomplish. The only slight deviation from this message came from David Krejci.
"If there's a chance to finish that guy, we're not going to hesitate,” Krejci admitted to CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty via Twitter. “We're going to do it.”
Time will tell.
"It’s going to be a hockey game, guys," Shawn Thornton said. "You guys can keep building it up all you want, but it’s going to be the same old, same old. It’s going to be just another game. We need the two points, and that’s our focus."
With NHL head disciplinarian Colin Campbell and director of officiating Terry Gregson on hand, the only possible way to achieve revenge would be to lay the same hit on Cooke that he laid on Savard, or lay a hit on a key Penguin like Sidney Crosby. The latter probably won’t happen because Crosby has too much respect from his good friend Patrice Bergeron.
"Obviously, they don't want this to get out of control," Bruins head coach Claude Julien said of Campbell and Gregson’s presence at the Garden. "That's why they're here. They'll certainly keep a close eye on it, including the referees. I think everybody knows that."
But while the general chatter around each dressing room centered around focusing on playing hockey, one Bruins player seemed ready to drop the gloves: "Something has to happen, and that’s that."
As Thornton himself later pointed out, no matter how important the game is, there is still a matter of pride at stake.
"We have guys here who definitely wear their heart on their sleeve, and it’s tough for those guys," he acknowledged. "It’s not about one person. It’s about what’s best for the team."
Thornton then said that Savard has a long road back to health and has a neighbor taking care of him. You could feel the sympathy and concern he had for his teammate.
"He’s not well," Thornton said of Savard.
This game and every game from now on are do-or-die for the Bruins, who are saying all the right things and doing their best to walk that fine line and not make the mistakes the Vancouver Canucks made before Todd Bertuzzi exacted revenge on Steve Moore (the team and Bertuzzi are still mired in lawsuits). The Bruins have pride, and they’re mad that their teammate is home and unable to live a normal life right now.
So what is going to happen?
Don’t expect any brawls on the scale of the 1970 Big Bad Bruins, who are being honored before the game for the 40th anniversary of winning the Stanley Cup.
"This isn't the 1970s," Julien told reporters. "There won't be a bench-cleaning brawl. You guys need to turn the page."
But do expect the Penguins to take a physical beating, Cooke to be invited to drop the gloves and a Cooke-like hit, provided the opportunity presents itself.
Payback will be served, but it will be within the rules — and if all goes well, on the scoreboard, too.
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