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Bruins vs. Penguins: ‘Frontier justice’ for Matt Cooke hit?

Will the Boston Bruins retaliate for Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke's season-ending hit to star forward Marc Savard? The controversy comes as the NHL tries to limit injuries to top players.

By Staff writer / March 18, 2010

Boston Bruins players gather around teammate Marc Savard after he was injured by a hit from Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 7. The Bruins and Penguins play again tonight.

Keith Srakocic/AP

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Boston hockey fans marked this day on their calendar more than two weeks ago.

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When the Boston Bruins' star center, Marc Savard, was felled for the season by a shoulder to the head from Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke on March 7, fans sensed what must come: a bench-clearing brawl. By the code that governs the game of hockey, it was the only conceivable outcome: An opponent cannot be allowed to injure your best player without retribution.

Instead, something remarkable happened. The Bruins hardly reacted at all.

Since that day, Bruins fans have been in a perpetual state of outrage. For one, National Hockey League disciplinarian Colin Campbell refused to mete out a punishment against Cooke, calling the hit clean. But fans' anger is, in many ways, directed at the Bruins, too. Hockey commentators like Barry Melrose called the Bruins' lack of response to Cooke’s hit “embarrasing.”

Tonight, the two teams face each other or the first time since the incident – this time, in Boston.

What will the Bruins do?

Expectations are high around the hockey world to see what the Bruins will do. They’re caught between desperately needing to win the game to stay in playoff contention and reestablishing some hockey dignity by teaching Cooke, who is no stranger to allegations of cheap shots, a lesson.

What's more, the Garden showdown comes as the NHL has seen a steady march of top players being carted from the ice on stretchers after being hit around the head. The NHL's inability to protect its top players contrasts sharply with the National Football League, which has made quarterbacks all but untouchable.

In an effort to resolve the problem, general managers met in November and again this month to debate how to discourage dangerous hits while retaining the intensity of the game. A potential answer, said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli recently, is to single out repeat offenders.

Whatever the case, there must be some clarity, said star Sidney Crosby – Cooke's teammate and a potential target for retribution – after Cooke’s hit on March 7. "At some point, there's going to have to be a clear-cut rule or clear-cut direction," he told reporters.

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