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No need for blood feud to be a blood bath

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  March 24, 2011 01:58 PM

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There is nothing wrong with a little honest to goodness enmity in sports, but this has all gotten a bit out of hand between the Bruins and Canadiens. This great rivalry has gone off the rails in the wake of the Max Pacioretty-Zdeno Chara incident on March 8, with accusations of exaggerated concussion reports on one side and spurious investigations and pious protests on the other.

Can't two eternal ice enemies jockeying for playoff position just play a hard-fought hockey game tonight at TD Garden?

That's what I hope happens, not the carnage that some are clamoring for with the hated Habs in town. The blood feud doesn't need to become a blood bath. Enough damage has been inflicted already on the sport, on Chara's reputation and on Pacioretty. Move on. The white-hot Bruins-Canadiens rivalry should represent the best hockey has to offer, not bring out the worst in two of the NHL's most passionate fan bases.

Look, what happened between Pacioretty and Chara 16 days ago in the Bell Centre was unfortunate for both parties and both have been wounded by it. It's absurd for there still to be an on-going investigation in Montreal over Chara's check that sent Pacioretty into the stanchion. It was a hockey play, Montreal. Get over it and fight real crime. Chara's good name has been dragged through the mud enough by Canadiens players, ownership and fans and he has handled it will grace and class, repeatedly professing regret that Pacioretty was hurt and concern for his well-being.

For those Spoked-Believers -- and veteran winger Mark Recchi -- who believe that Pacioretty's injuries were a failed bleu, blanc et rouge ruse to get Chara suspended, consider the fact that Pacioretty is extremely lucky not to be paralyzed after taking that hit. Pacioretty fractured his fourth cervical vertebra after going head first into the partition. Former Boston University hockey player Travis Roy was paralyzed when he fractured his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. It's quite callous to penalize Pacioretty for a speedy recovery when the alternative could have been tragic.

Yes, the Canadiens pantomime pain with the best of them and the league should whistle them more for such fakery. But you can't fake being nearly decapitated and knocked unconscious.

The winner tonight is not going to be the team that stoops the lowest to answer the bloodcurdling call to violence. It's going to be the team that keeps its composure and doesn't get sucked into the subplot. The biggest blow either side can strike is picking up the two points that come with a win.

With 90 points, the Bruins are three up on the Canadiens in the Northeast division and have two games in hand, having played 72 to Montreal's 74, entering tonight's skate.

A win puts the Spoked-Bs in the drivers' seat for the division title and the No. 3 seed. It also sends a message to Montreal, which has won four of five meetings between the teams this season and 9 of the last 11, that any perceived playoff advantage they thought they had is wishful thinking. If the playoffs started today, the sixth-seeded Canadiens would face the third-seeded Bruins in the first round.

Keeping focus on the ice was something the Bruins failed to do last time they played Montreal, losing 4-1 in that now infamous game. They were anticipating retaliation from the Canadiens after Boston's rock'em, sock'em 8-6 victory on Feb. 9 -- a game that featured 187 penalty minutes, six fights and a put-up-your dukes do-si-do between goalies Carey Price and Tim Thomas.

"I think maybe all the hype about the fights the game before that and stuff that was going on, maybe it got in guys' heads and guys were expecting the same things to happen, but that's not Montreal's game," said Bruins winger Brad Marchand. "They have a lot of skill, a lot of talent. They battle hard every game. We can't expect something like that to happen [tonight]. We have to expect them to come play their game -- skill and speed. We'll try and play our game to match that."

Marchand was asked if he expected the Canadiens to seek retribution for the Pacioretty injury. He said, yes, but not the way everyone thinks.

"I think the biggest thing they can do is try to get the two points," Marchand said. "That's the biggest revenge you can get, especially with how we're battling right now for first place. I don't think they're going to come in here and try to physically hurt anybody or try and put us through the boards. But they're going to come play hard. They're going to battle and want to get those two points. We have to make sure we counter that."

That sentiment was echoed in Montreal.

It wouldn't be wise for the Bruins to get into a penalty-filled affair with Montreal. The Black and Gold is just 2 for its last 34 on the power play, and converted their first 5-on-4, power play goal since Feb. 18 on Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over New Jersey. The Canadiens meanwhile are humming along at 9 for 23 on the power play against the Bruins this season.

Take the bait and you could be digging the puck out of your own net.

"This time for ourselves we're not going to worry about that type of stuff," said Milan Lucic. "We're going to worry about carrying over what we did [against New Jersey] and making good hard plays and try to get a win because they're right up our back in the standings. It's definitely a big game."

It's a big game, but not just because it's the first meeting since Pacioretty was introduced to the partition and all of Montreal lost its mind. Or because of the hockey hysteria that has fanned the flames of illogical behavior on both sides.

It's a big game because it's Bruins-Canadiens with playoff implications and division title repercussions.

Shouldn't that be enough?

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...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.

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