Bruins need win as well as payback

BOSTON -- Call it revenge. Call it retribution. Call it payback.

Whatever title Boston Bruins fans want to see in lights on the marquee when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit TD Garden Thursday night, it's expected the players will do what needs to be done in a professional manner, then concentrate on playing hockey.

Just because Matt Cooke, the Penguins winger who all but ended the season of the Bruins' Marc Savard with a blindside hit to the head on March 7 in Pittsburgh, will be in town doesn't mean Boston will forget about its hunt for a postseason berth and focus exclusively on No. 24.

The Bruins are fresh off a seven-game road trip in which they finished 3-3-1 and enter Thursday's game in sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 74 points. The New York Rangers are in ninth place with 71 points.

Pittsburgh, however, remains in second place in the conference standings and the last thing the Penguins want is to see their meal ticket -- Sidney Crosby -- targeted in any way in Boston.

To the shock of Bruins management, players and fans, Cooke was not suspended for his hit, so martial law could be in effect on Thursday until Boston feels justice has been served.

In an attempt to keep the situation from getting out of control, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is sending his top cop to Boston as senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell will be in attendance.

Because Boston just completed its longest road trip of the season, compounded by travel issues getting out of Carolina after Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the Hurricanes, Bruins coach Claude Julien gave his players Wednesday off.

Campbell had his own preparations for Thursday's tilt and appeared on the NHL Network on Wednesday afternoon. He spent almost 15 minutes talking with hosts Rob Simpson and Stan Fischler about the league's attempt to crack down on hits to the head, which was a major issue at the recent general managers meetings in Florida.

Simpson, a former Bruins rinkside reporter for NESN, asked Campbell why he would be attending Thursday's game in Boston, and where he would be sitting.

"I'll be sitting on the Boston bench," Campbell joked.

"Anytime we have things like this, we do some things to ensure that hopefully things don't get out of hand, and they do what they have to do and keep things civil," Campbell added.

Is that possible?

The Bruins have received a ton of backlash for not retaliating on Cooke after the hit on Savard. Campbell will likely speak with each team and/or the coaches before Thursday's game, but the Bruins will need to respond to the hit on Savard in some way.

Accomplishing that will include winning the game. If Boston can achieve both objectives, no doubt the loyal Bruins fans will greatly appreciate it, and it could be the jump start the team needs for its stretch run toward the Stanley Cup playoffs.

As far as hits to the head, Campbell said the league is looking at all options and wants to make sure that if an in-season rule change is implemented, there is no gray area.

"This one we have to dot a few I's and cross a few T's before we can get it done," Campbell said during his interview on "NHL Live." "I don't anticipate doing anything with a penalty call on the ice right now; that would be a difficult thing to administer at this point in time. That's not our issue.

"Our issue is making sure some of the hits can be dealt with from the supplemental discipline aspect, and that's what we're trying to accomplish at the moment."

The regular season is quickly coming to a close, so the NHL will have to act fast if it wants to make a change. Then the players' association will have to sign off on any new rules.

"If we could do it the right way, we'd like to do it in two minutes, but we have to make sure we do this properly because there are a lot of things you have to make sure you consistently cover and all the key people in the game know, the players most importantly," Campbell said.

This issue involving hits to the head and concussions is nothing new to the NHL. The league has been dealing with it for a few years now, and the Cooke/Savard incident is just the latest example.

During his interview on Wednesday, Campbell said the game is better and more entertaining since the 2004-2005 lockout.

"When we increase the speed of the game of hockey, and at the same time, players are getting bigger, faster and stronger, and we came out of the lockout with a great game," said Campbell. "We made it a better game to watch and a better game to play for the players. We weren't hooking, holding and locking guys down on the backside with the stick across the waist. Defensemen weren't interfering with guys with their stick between the legs so they couldn't get in and forecheck."

But with that comes the possibility of more high-speed collisions in all three zones.

"When we open this game up, there's a yin for yang and we had a lot more car crashes," admitted Campbell. "The car crashes were legal, based upon shoulders hitting heads. We've got to make an attempt to reduce concussions. We've been doing that."

When the puck drops on Thursday, Campbell will have a front-row seat for all the action.

Without having it read too much like a "most wanted" notice, and since most probably didn't know too much about Cooke prior to his hit on Savard, here's a brief bio:

The most interesting aspect of the Belleville, Ontario, native is that he was involved in a similar situation on Feb. 16, 2004. Cooke was 25 at the time and playing for the Vancouver Canucks when teammate Markus Naslund suffered a concussion after being hit by Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore.

Cooke immediately dropped the gloves and went after Moore. That's how the Bruins should have handled Cooke on March 7.

What the NHL doesn't want to see Thursday night is what happened when the Canucks and Avalanche faced each other after the hit on Naslund. That was the infamous Todd Bertuzzi sucker punch on Moore that ended Moore's career.

So if there's anyone who knows what to expect from the Bruins on Thursday, it's Cooke. He shouldn't pull a John Wensink and challenge the entire Boston bench, but Cooke should accept any challengers and get it over with.

It's not revenge. It's not retribution. It's not payback. That's the hockey way of policing the game.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.