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Bruins seeking payback could be nightmare for NHL

Image (1) Bruins-thumb-250x166-7430.jpg for post 372

Tonight’s game between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins will be a defining moment in the history of the NHL. With Matt Cooke facing absolutely zero punishment for his blind-side hit on Marc Savard that left the Boston forward out for the season with a concussion, the Bruins could be out for blood as they seek retribution.

There’s no doubt that Matt Cooke will be a targeted man. The Bruins will be looking to make him pay each time he touches the puck. But it’s not just Cooke that is in danger; the Penguins’ top players have big targets on their backs as well. Says P.J. Stock, former Boston Bruins tough guys (courtesy of

“It’s so easy to just go after the other team’s tough guy . . . and think the score is settled. It’s not, though. The Bruins are missing one of their star players. They now have to talk to [Evgeni] Malkin . . . They have to talk to Crosby. They have to get in the head of [Sergei] Gonchar. They have to try to make those guys feel somewhat uneasy.

“The last thing I’d ever want to do is tell someone to invoke some sort of physical treatment to Crosby. But, unfortunately, the way the game’s going, if [the NHL is] not going to fix any of this, the only way to make a guy who was running around feel a little bad about himself is to [threaten to] hurt one of his team’s star players. I wouldn’t do anything to Crosby, but in the warmup I’d let Crosby [know] that we’re coming for him. And then when Matt gets out there, I think Matt [has to] own up. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Cooke fought in his first or second shift. He’s a tough kid, and he can hold his own.”

Stock also mentions that the instigator rule originally prevented the Bruins from instantly retaliating and making Cooke pay in the original game. He also doesn’t seem to be actively promoting the targeting of the Penguins’ top players, but if it’s his mind you know it’s in the heads of the Boston players as well.

This is exactly what the NHL is hoping to avoid. Colin Campbell is actually going to be in attendance at tonight’s game, as the league hopes his presence will help maintain some measure of order and discipline. The last time this sort of game was played, where a team seemed to be ready for violent retribution, Steve Moore was left with a broken neck and hockey has been trying to recover ever since.

The Vancouver Canucks - Colorado Avalanche game of March 8, 2004 -- in which season-long suspensions, criminal charges and life-long injuries were the result of payback -- would hopefully be the motivation for both teams to at least contain themselves for outright headhunting.

This is also the absolute worst scenario the NHL could have faced, just weeks after the Olympics. Says Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail:

Hockey came out of the Vancouver Winter Games with a golden glow - not just in the medals won by the Canadian men and women, but in the surprising show by the Americans (silver in men’s and women’s hockey) and the astonishing skill level showed by all players in a tournament in which there had not been a single fight.

That glow lasted about as long as a firefly’s thanks to Cooke’s vicious hit on an unsuspecting Savard and the now-familiar image of a stretcher being pulled out onto the ice through the Zamboni doors.

The best thing that can happen from this game is the Boston Bruins somehow manage to keep their heads, and get payback on the Penguins not by taking out their top players with illegal or dangerous hits but by getting some much-needed points with a big win.

I’m not saying the Bruins should not be looking for payback at all. In fact, I fully expect a fight with Matt Cooke in most likely in his first shift. The Bruins should also make it clear they are not exactly happy with the situation, but with clean and hard hits that don’t leave a question as to whether they were illegal or not. And as much as this could be an ‘eye for an eye’ game, going out to injure another player just to get retribution for Savard.

The NHL is facing a seminal moment this season, and it’s unfortunate we’ve come to this. Yet the absolute worst thing that can happen tonight is for the Bruins to try and clearly take out or hurt any of the Penguins players. I understand that i the past this might have been fine, and that hockey is a sport where payback is possible -- and expected -- if the NHL fails to do what is right. Yet for a sport that is already teetering on the precipice of a PR nightmare, there is fine line that is going to be walked tonight.

There is a way for the Boston Bruins to get their retribution, but that’s not with dangerous or openly vicious hits. Beat them on the scoreboard, show Matt Cooke his hit will not go unpunished. But do not cross that line.