Bruins may stir something up for Cooke

Recipe for retribution at the Garden tonight?

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / March 18, 2010

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Tonight at TD Garden, the Bruins will have a chance to do something the NHL did not. They can hold Penguins left wing Matt Cooke accountable for the damage he inflicted upon Marc Savard, still left dizzy by the blow to the head he took 11 days ago.

“Savvy’s not doing any better,’’ coach Claude Julien said Tuesday about the Bruins center, whose symptoms include headaches, nausea, and sensitivity to light. “Same thing.’’

Cooke skated without punishment from league disciplinarian Colin Campbell after delivering a blind-side head shot to Savard March 7 at Mellon Arena because the hit, according to the 2009-10 NHL rulebook, was legal. In the wake of the incident, the league’s general managers scripted a proposal for such hits to be penalized. Implementation of the new rule could be fast-tracked through the Competition Committee and Board of Governors before the end of the season.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli believes that had the rule been in place when Cooke launched himself into Savard, the Pittsburgh winger might have been suspended for 10 or more games.

Cooke should be in Pittsburgh’s lineup tonight, and undoubtedly will understand that Savard’s teammates, with the full approval of the Bruins faithful, will be looking to address the issue.

“We play Pittsburgh again?’’ vice president Cam Neely asked with a laugh. “I’m not going to get into what our fans expect. But part of what this game is all about is taking responsibility for the actions that we do. Sometimes, as much as the league wants to get it right, it’s difficult to get it right.’’

On Oct. 27, 2007, Philadelphia’s Randy Jones nearly ended Patrice Bergeron’s career when he sent the forward flying headfirst into the boards. In the next Boston-Philadelphia game, the Bruins didn’t target Jones. The only fight took place between Jeremy Reich and Ben Eager. The acknowledgement was that Jones, a puck-moving defenseman with little history of rough stuff, had thrown a bad hit, but not a dirty one.

In contrast, the Bruins have no doubt that Cooke was targeting Savard’s head.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,’’ said one Bruin.

According to the unwritten code that unofficially governs hockey, Cooke will be expected to drop the gloves. The 5-foot-11-inch, 205-pound Cooke won’t have to take on a heavyweight such as Zdeno Chara or Milan Lucic. The Code dictates that one clean, straight-up fight is the proper way to respond.

And should Shawn Thornton (a healthy scratch in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Carolina) or Mark Stuart come calling, Cooke will have a challenge to accept — if he chooses to.

“Remember,’’ said Thornton, “that Cooke fought Steve Moore. So he’s been on the other side.’’

Thornton was referring to Cooke’s involvement in the sequence of events that took place between Vancouver and Colorado in 2004. Moore, then with Colorado, dropped Markus Naslund with an open-ice hit. In the next Vancouver-Colorado game, then-Canuck Cooke challenged Moore, who accepted. And that should have been that, until Todd Bertuzzi made the unfortunate decision to attack Moore from behind and pile-drive the Harvard alumnus into the ice.

The result: a career cut short, multiple lawsuits, and the kind of incident the NHL hopes will never take place again. Especially tonight, when tempers are sure to run short.

“I think there’s already a multimillion-dollar lawsuit ongoing in the NHL right now for what was deemed just that,’’ Julien said last week. “As a coach, you can’t have any part of that. You’ve got to let the league take care of the decision they think is right. All you can do is move on as a coach and focus on your team.’’

Earlier this season, Philadelphia’s Mike Richards, who had KO’d Florida’s David Booth with a blind-side wallop, had to answer to the Panthers. On Dec. 21, 2009, in the first rematch between the clubs, Florida captain Bryan McCabe challenged Richards. The Philadelphia captain accepted. Earlier this month, in Booth’s first game against the Flyers, the Florida winger went after Richards. Again, Richards, understanding the situation, agreed to fight.

If Cooke follows Richards’s lead and accepts the challenge, the situation will have been addressed. Anything more, however, will be considered over the line. Campbell will be in attendance. So will a veteran crew of referees Bill McCreary and Stephen Walkom, along with linesmen Brian Murphy and Tony Sericolo.

Entering this season, McCreary had been a referee for 1,597 games, second-most on the active list behind Kerry Fraser (1,828). Walkom was the NHL’s director of officiating for four seasons before returning to the ice this year. Before this season, Murphy had 1,207 NHL games on his résumé, sixth-most among active linesmen. Sericolo had worked in 664 games entering this year. With these assignments, the NHL is sending a message that the players will be under close watch tonight.

After all, the Bruins have more important things to address than retribution. The Penguins entered last night’s showdown against the Devils, their Atlantic Division rivals, in second place in the East. The Bruins are in a dogfight to qualify for the playoffs. They are 3 points ahead of the Rangers, who arrive in Boston for a crucial Sunday matinee.

Points, not punchouts, are what the Bruins really need.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at

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