Tonight’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins has the potential to get down right biblical.
I’m talking eye-for-an-eye, Old Testament stuff.
The hockey world will be sitting on the edge of their seat to see what kind of retribution the Bruins will attempt to dole out, if any, for the Matt Cooke hit that took out Marc Savard for the balance of the season.
The Bruins in the middle of fighting for their playoff lives have struggled all year offensively and could ill afford to lose their top offensive man.
The hit was roundly blasted across the league — even by Cooke’s own teammates — and has forced the league’s hand to re-write the rule book so that future head shots can be punished accordingly. Cooke of course got a free pass.
The last time the tension built to this point it resulted in an incident that is still being sorted out by the courts six years and 10 days later.
That is when Todd Bertuzzi, then with the Vancouver Canucks, jumped Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore from behind and drove his head into the ice, leaving him with a broken neck and a major concussion as well as other injuries — Bertuzzi’s actions driven by a borderline hit on the Canucks’ top forward Markus Naslund three weeks prior.
Bertuzzi was suspended for the remainder of the year and didn’t return to the ice until after the lock out season. He hasn’t been the same player since.
Moore’s career was ended and the NHL suffered irreparable damage from the incident.
What has the incident still in civil court proceedings are claims of who fuelled the fire, with the latest suit having Bertuzzi suing then head coach Marc Crawford.
The kicker to all of this is that Moore had already fought once in that game in what should have been deemed answering the bell — ironically enough the player he fought was Cooke.
But in the eyes of the Canucks it wasn’t considered enough and as the game wore on into the third period Bertuzzi hunted the much smaller Moore down.
The result of the Moore hit on Naslund was the Canucks’ captain missing a total of three games with a concussion and a bone chip in his elbow.
What will be deemed enough retribution this time?
Keep in mind the stakes are arguably a little higher, with the insinuation that one of the game’s top stars — Sidney Crosby — may be targeted in addition to Cooke.
People will argue that this all could have been avoided had the there been no instigator penalty, that this could have been solved early if the players were allowed to police themselves.
For years I was in the front row of that chorus line, but what I am coming to realize more and more is that the rule doesn’t really make a difference. For the number of times I have seen players forced to fight immediately following a completely clean check, especially this year, what was really holding them back this time?
And the two minute penalty and a game misconduct certainly didn’t stop Bertuzzi from suckering Moore three weeks after the initial incident — despite the two teams having already played a game in Colorado after the hit on Naslund — although he may have picked his spot a little differently.
And at this point I am asking myself does the game really need more two-minute players like Derek Boogaard who dish out as many or more cheap shots than they prevent.
I love a hockey fight as much as the next red-blooded hockey fan, especially in defence of a teammate — the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wing wars in the late 1990s are a prime example — but the argument for vigilante justice is getting cloudier and cloudier.
If the Bruins really wanted to respond, someone should have fought Cooke that shift or even that night.
Of course it would help if the league handed out real penalties and enforced some of the ones already in the book — checking from behind anybody? — but that’s another column altogether.
While payback can certainly be sweet, the ramifications can last far longer.
In this case it may be better for everyone concerned — especially the NHL as a whole — if the Bruins turned the other cheek.