Mon Jan 10 06:37pm EST
Marc Savard(notes) of the Boston Bruins faces the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight for the first time since March 7, 2010, when a hit to the head by Matt Cooke(notes) changed the course of his career with a concussion:
Tonight will mark Savard's first game against Matt Cooke and the Penguins since the agitator knocked him silly [March 7]. Savard acknowledged tonight might be more emotional than other regular-season games.
"It's obvious that it's something that's hurt my life for a bit and put me through some tough times,'' Savard said of Cooke's head-hunting hit. "It's not easy. It'll be on my mind, but at the end of the day, I'm just going out with my team and trying to get points.''
The battle doesn't have the feel of a revenge game, despite the back-story. Maybe it's that after a lack of response from the Bruins on the day of the hit (due to cognitive psychology, according to NESN), Boston made Cooke answer the bell in what was otherwise a forgettable night and a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh on home ice.
Then again, their reunion tonight comes at an odd time for both players ... but at a completely appropriate time for the NHL.
As if you needed a refresher, the hit again:
Savard hasn't been the same player post-concussion, as CSN New England's Joe Haggerty explained:
Savard has skated in 17 games for the Bruins since returning from post-concussion syndrome in December, and it's been a crooked path. He recorded a game-winning goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs. But he's also gone scoreless in 13 of those 17 games, with a plus/minus mark of minus-8.
A combination of fatigue, rust and just being "that little bit off" have conspired to keep Savard from looking like much more than a shell of his point-per-game self, which he was once upon a time in Boston. Savard went so far as to joke that "he's poison" with whomever he's been skating, and that's almost hard to imagine.
Cooke, whose image received a positive boost when he was depicted as a family man by HBO's cameras, left the Penguins last week to deal with a family illness. He returned to the team and, in Sidney Crosby's(notes) absence, he played on a top line with center Jordan Staal(notes) and right wing Evgeni Malkin(notes).
What to expect tonight? Jonathan Fucile of Boston Sports Then and Now offered this take:
Those still calling for Matt Cooke's blood will likely be disappointed, as two points in each game is still more important than any lingering thoughts of revenge, but it will be interesting to see if the Bruins try to make a statement to Matt Cooke and the Penguins with their play on the ice. Boston maybe luck out a bit, as Sidney Crosby is expected to miss about a week with a mild concussion. Pittsburgh has other weapons but this is an opportunity the Bruins need to seize
Will the Bruins use the emotion of facing another top team to fight for victory, or will they fail to rise to the occasion as they have often done this season? The reaction of Savard's teammates if Cooke even breathes on Savard should also be interesting, however, as everyone on the bench will surely be keeping an eye on the Penguins pesky forward just in case.
But the Cooke/Savard incident is bigger than Cooke and Savard.
We have a Rule 48 on the books because there was nothing there to punish Cooke, if the NHL is to be believed. Whether or not that rule directly affected it, one gets the sense that Tom Kostopoulos(notes) received a 6-game suspension yesterday for his hit on Brad Stuart(notes) because of the nearly year-long fallout from the Cooke/Savard hit.
That Kostopoulos received a six-game suspension, instead of the usual two- or three-gamer, is proof the league is taking hits to the head more seriously, even when Rule 48 doesn't apply.
Based on the way Savard has played lately and the importance of the game tonight for Boston, it's unlikely the center or any of his teammates will lose their head and do anything extracurricular to Cooke that could hurt the team. The two points, and only the two points, will probably be the only focus.
But those of us on the outside looking in can also focus on how much safer the game might be because of what Cooke did to Savard the last time the two met.
Little consolation to Savard, no doubt. But an undeniable part of this controversy.