There is blood in the water.
The Bruins know it. The fans know it. The media especially knows it. When Matt Cooke  and the Penguins  take the ice Thursday night at TD Garden, the entire NHL  community will be watching to see how the Bruins respond. The situation has become serious to the point that NHL  vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell  and director of officiating Terry Gregson will be in attendance at the game and will address both coaches before the puck drops.
The players are not saying all that much though. Really, there is not much they can say. The instigator rule and prevents them from saying that they are going to go out and take Cooke down and purposefully going after specific players for vigilante justice has become a sensitive topic in the league. Either way, the eyes of Boston will be on Shawn Thornton , Mark Stuart  and Milan Lucic  to step up against Cooke early and often.
Thornton knows there is hype coming in but he is just not buying it.
“You [the media] are the ones that keep hyping it,” Thornton said. “Obviously we are not happy with [Savard] being hurt but we need the two points, we are scraping for a playoff spot.”
Do not get Thornton wrong. He is an old school type of player and understands his role on the team. At the same time, he is not looking for his own suspension and is not a fan of the instigator rule though he understands why it is in place. The letter of the law (rule 47.11 in the NHL rulebook) defines an instigator with the following criteria — “distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.”
That last part would definitely apply in the case of Cooke v. Bruins.
“I am not a big believer in this [instigator] rule anyways,” Thornton said. “We also have guys in this league who aren’t as honest anyway so I understand why it is there.”
Every Bruin is more or less saying the same thing — we need the two points tonight because we are fighting for a playoff spot. That is the bottom line.
“The focus is on the game, we have to have two points,” Steve Begin said. “It is very close right now for the playoffs. That is all that matters, that is how we are thinking this morning. I don’t know what is going to happen, what he [Campbell] is going to talk about.”
The media dug at Begin and Thornton, asking about Cooke and the Penguins with variations of the same question (ie, what are you going to do tonight?) but the answer was just about always the same — we want the two points.
“We are just approaching this game as one where we need the two points,” Tim Thomas  said after deflecting a question on how the Bruins dealt with instigators like Sean Avery  last year. “We are on that border for the playoffs so the most important thing is the two points.”
The game in question from last year was against the Stars in early November. The Bruins, with Marc Savard  leading the way against Avery, got into a brawl that ended up sparking the team on a run from November to February last season and was one of the defining moments of the year. Thursday’s game has a chance to be a defining moment for Boston if they can deal with the Cooke issue on the ice and register a convincing win against one of the top teams in the conference. At the same time, no one can plan a defining moment.
“Those type of games, you can’t plan them,” Thomas said. “If you plan them and try to make it into a game like that then it hardly ever works. So, it could be a big win for us to make sure that we are in the playoffs. Beyond that, who knows? You just have to play.”
On the other end of the aisle, the Penguins have their own problems to deal with. They are coming to Boston on the back end of a back-to-back after being dropped 5-2 by the Devils last night and are now tied with New Jersey at the top of the Atlantic division with 87 points.
“I don’t know, I am not on their side and I don’t know how they are going to react,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury  said. “You never want to see a guy get injured like that, it is very sad. But hockey happens fast, everything happens fast and it sucks to see [Savard] go down like that and it looks like the rules are going to change a little bit and hopefully we can prevent stuff like that from happening.”
Cooke’s teammates know that he will be looking out for himself come game time.
“[Cooke] is going to come out and play the way he plays,” Eric Godard said. “He always shows up and plays the same way every night. So, I would not expect anything else tonight … [Cooke] always has his head up. He is more than able to take care of himself.