Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic Keeping Matt Cooke Incident in Mind, But Playing for Win, Not Payback in Pittsburgh

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Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic Keeping Matt Cooke Incident in Mind, But Playing for Win, Not Payback in Pittsburgh WILMINGTON, Mass. — November 10 was a date many Bruins fans had circled on their calendars as soon as the NHL schedule was released.

That is when the Bruins head to Pittsburgh for the first time since Matt Cooke delivered his devastating cheap shot on Marc Savard last March 7, and the fateful day is almost here.

Wednesday’s clash will mark the first meeting between the clubs since the aborted “revenge game” at the Garden on March 18, when the Penguins rolled to an easy 3-0 victory.

Heading into that game, the Bruins preached that the points in a playoff race were more important than extracting their pound of flesh from Cooke, who did take a few solid rights from Shawn Thornton in an early first-period scrap, but was otherwise left alone.

Will an early-season encounter with less on the line and the criticisms of the last season’s lack of response still fresh in their minds lead to a more thorough form of retribution on Wednesday, especially considering the fact that Savard still remains sidelined with post-concussion syndrome symptoms?

The Bruins don’t appear inclined to go in that direction, or at least won’t publicly state any such intentions. Instead, they view the two points at stake as still vital, especially after losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“Obviously it’s in the back of your mind, but I think most importantly we’re two teams that are tied at 15 points,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic after Tuesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “They’re .500 and I know they’re not happy about that. We expect a good hard-fought game and we’re going to be prepared for whatever happens.

“It creates a bit of a rivalry between the two [teams],” added Lucic. “We definitely want to win that one for Savvy. I know he’s going to be watching that one closely.”

So will the league, which makes seeking revenge more difficult and potentially very costly. Thornton refused to answer any questions about Cooke, knowing full well that addressing the issue before the game is a no-win situation for players.

If they claim that the situation is in the past and all accounts settled, then fans will be upset that their desire for revenge will be unfulfilled. If they express a desire to serve up Cooke’s head on a platter, then they’ll be the ones sitting on the shelf with the league providing them with long unpaid vacations. 

Still, the Bruins can’t deny that the memory of the hit lingers.

“It’s always going to be there,” said Lucic. “It’s a physical game. Things happen. We’re not going to go out of our way to get someone back, but definitely, like I said, it’s a physical game and you’ve got to go out there and establish forechecks and make big hits. We’re just focused on establishing a physical presence out there and try to go in there and get two points.”

Lucic was asked if the slate had been wiped clean after Cooke accepted Thornton’s challenge last year.

“Can it ever be clean?” said Lucic. “Now because of things that happened in the past you don’t want to do something stupid that puts yourself at risk and puts someone else at risk. You don’t ever want to hurt guys, but you definitely want to let him know. That’s definitely the approach you’ve got to take.

“It’s tough for us,” added Lucic. “It’s tough for Savvy right now. He’s been through a lot since that hit. … We’re just hoping he can get back to the player we know he is.”

While the Cooke hit and how the Bruins would handle the situation this time around was the main topic of conversation during the media access after practice, Bruins coach Claude Julien insisted it hasn’t been the focus of the team’s internal discussions.

“It hasn’t been talked about,” said Julien. “At one point you have to move forward with your team and let things happen as they should. If we want to keep wanting revenge here for the next 2-3 years here I think we’re losing a lot of focus on what we have to do right now.

“Eventually you turn the page and you move on,” added Julien. “You’ve got to look at the present and not the past.”

Julien did leave open one caveat as a warning to Cooke for further transgressions.

“If we he acts in a certain way that deserves retribution, we’ll deal with it then,” said Julien.

That would be an improvement on last year’s reaction, and keeping Cooke in check with an immediate response to any of his antics might just spare the Bruins from another round of questions on the subject.

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