Call it retribution, call it revenge, call it retaliation, call it all of the above, but tonight it better be called Bruins.
The Bruins host the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden tonight and Penguins wanton winger Matt Cooke, who leveled Bruins center Marc Savard with a blindside hit on March 7, knocking Savard out cold and most likely out for the season with a Grade 2 concussion, is pucks public enemy No. 1.
The Garden will resemble the Roman Coliseum as bloodthirsty Bruins fans crave revenge on Cooke, who skated by without a penalty or incredulously any type of suspension from the somnambulant NHL for his cheap shot on Savard.
The NHL did nothing to Cooke. The Bruins can't afford to do the same. This is the defining moment in the Bruins' season. They have to stand up for themselves. They have to stand and deliver. They have to stand for something, or the Black and Gold bandwagon will be abandoned.
This has been a disappointing season for the Bruins on many levels. A team that some outlets picked to play for the Stanley Cup is clinging to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference with 13 games left to play, goal-starved and goalie waffling. The Bruins aren't going to win the Stanley Cup. They probably aren't going to win a playoff round, especially with Savard out. The one thing the Bruins can win this season, or more accurately win back, is the respect of their fed-up fan base.
Bruins players (hello, Michael Ryder) have been savaged on local sports talk radio for not immediately coming to Savard's defense on March 7, when Cooke leveled him in the third period. The team's explanation for inactivity is understandable, if not likable.
The Bruins were locked in a one-goal game in the third period during a season when points have been harder to come by than a parking space on Newbury Street, and the NHL's instigator rule would have put them at a disadvantage against the high-powered Penguins.
If the Bruins had rallied to win the game in Pittsburgh, maybe their lack of response wouldn't have been so glaring, but they lost, 2-1, and their act of discretion looked like apathy without any points to show for it, especially in a season where the team tried to evoke memories of the Big Bad Bruins with the slogan, "Big and Bad are Back."
Hard to say that when no one had Savard's back.
The Bruins, who enter tonight's game with a three-point lead over the New York Rangers for the final playoff slot in the East, need the points just as much now as they did then, but it's more important to prove a point -- that they're a team that won't be pushed around or victimized by the Matt Cookes of the world -- than it is to earn two points for the win.
Pride and principle aren't measured in the NHL standings, but they count.
Cooke must get his comeuppance tonight, or the Bruins must follow a hockey version of Hammurabi's Code and exact their revenge on Penguins star Sidney Crosby. No one is advocating or calling for cowardly drive-by hits like Cooke's or intentional attempts to injure on either Penguin, but hard-nosed "legal" hits on Crosby all game long, and an open invitation to Cooke to toss the gloves and show some guts for once.
Such a plan of attack by the Bruins could not only result in a black eye for Cooke, but for NHL disciplinary czar Colin Campbell and league commissioner Gary Bettman, especially if Crosby, the game's golden goose, is injured because the Bruins had to take matters into their own hands.
Let's not forget that Cooke shouldn't even be on the ice for this game. Campbell should have suspended him, just like he did Alex Ovechkin for a far less devious hit on the Blackhawks Brian Campbell last Sunday, a week after Cooke's hit on Savard.
Even Cooke's teammate, former Bruin Bill Guerin, came out and said he expected Cooke to face a suspension for the hit.
Now, the league is covering its public relations derrière with a diversionary tactic by trying to rubber-stamp the new rules the league's general mangers have recommended to prevent hits like Cooke's. The move is as transparent as the plexiglass that rings NHL rinks.
So, is the presence of Campbell at this game designed to intimidate the Bruins into either a tepid response for fear of suspension or no response at all?
But if you're a Bruin with an ounce of pride like defenseman Mark Stuart, who got in two fights in Philly the game after the Cooke incident, who do you want to let down -- your fans or Campbell?
You'll only have to answer to Campbell once. You'll have to answer to Bruins fans for the rest of your career if you back down. Seems easy to me.
The Penguins are certainly preparing as if the Bruins will respond. Pittsburgh enforcer Eric Godard, who hasn't played since Jan. 25 due to a groin injury, has been skating and practicing with his team this week and could return just in time to offer the Penguins some protection.
It might do both teams some good to get on with the vengeance and then vamoose. Since Cooke's cheap-shot hit on Savard, the Penguins have dropped three of four.
That's called karma.
But that's not enough.
It's time for the Bruins to practice what they PR preach -- a return to old-time hockey -- or a season that is already a let down will become embarrassing.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.