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Canadiens vs. Bruins: After the outrage

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FIRST PERIOD

In Montreal, they’re outraged. In Boston, they’re outraged about the outrage. We can only hope that in the dressing rooms, they’re truly not out for revenge or out to make a point or out for anything other than winning Thursday night, when the Canadiens and Bruins meet for the first time since the Max Pacioretty(notes)-Zdeno Chara incident.

It was only 16 days ago when Pacioretty’s head smashed into a stanchion at Montreal’s Bell Centre, after Chara angled him off and shoved him at the last second, leaving him with a concussion and fractured vertebra.

The Habs, their fans and many others were aghast when all Chara received was a major for interference and a game misconduct – no fine or suspension, because the NHL ruled the hit was “a hockey play.” Then there were the Bruins who stuck up for Chara and those who thought the reaction was overblown because of the injury and the intensity of the Montreal market.

So what’s next? The teams are saying the right things – mostly – and there are reasons to believe there won’t be a brouhaha. The Canadiens aren’t a team of goons built for retribution. They’re a smaller group, going on the road, where the fans will support the bigger, more physical Bruins at TD Garden. Who is going to challenge the 6-foot-9 Chara?

But let’s not forget what happened the last time these teams met in Boston. There were 14 goals scored in an 8-6 Bruins victory, plus 187 penalty minutes and even a little tussle between goaltenders Carey Price(notes) of the Canadiens and Tim Thomas(notes) of the Bruins.

The atmosphere was charged when the teams met in Montreal on March 8, the night Chara hit Pacioretty in a 4-1 Habs victory, and now it has been made even more electric by Mark Recchi(notes), who said in a radio interview Wednesday that the Canadiens “embellished” Pacioretty’s condition “a little bit” in an effort to get Chara suspended.

Never mind that Chara wasn’t suspended. Never mind that Recchi’s words read worse in print and pixels than they actually sounded over the air. As a 43-year-old veteran and former Canadien, Recchi should have known better.

Everyone should know better.

It was one thing when Matt Cooke(notes) didn’t listen, when the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pest threw an elbow into the head of an opponent last Sunday after so much talk about such shenanigans – much of it initiated by his own team. Matt Cooke never listens. That’s why he was suspended for 10 games plus the first round of the playoffs. But Cooke is supposed to be the dirtiest player in hockey, the exception to the rule, right?

If after the Cooke incident, after the Pacioretty-Chara incident, after the Penguins-New York Islanders incident earlier this year, after all the protesting and posturing about player safety, if after all that two potential playoff opponents can’t shut up, strap up and play hockey, then the Habs and Bruins will simply confirm all the worst stereotypes about the sport.

I hate to say it: I can’t wait to watch.

SECOND PERIOD

In his past two games, 38-year-old Mike Knuble(notes) has posted three goals and six points, giving him 20 goals and 36 points this season.

“He is playing like a 24-year-old,” Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Except he’s not. At least he’s not playing like he did when he was 24. And that’s what makes it all the more amazing.

Knuble never reached 20 goals in his 20s. But he has scored at least 20 goals in eight straight seasons in his 30s.

“It’s like two different careers, really,” Knuble said. “Twenties was one, and then after 30 was a different one.”

Knuble spent his first six seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Bruins. He reached double digits in goals only once, scoring 15 for the Rangers in 1998-99. He said he was probably getting to the point where he was “on the fringe,” and when he signed a two-year extension with the Bruins in 2002, he did it with the thought of just trying to make it to the lockout everyone knew was coming in 2004.

Then Sergei Samsonov(notes) suffered a wrist injury in 2002-03, and the Bruins auditioned some guys to play with Joe Thornton(notes) and Glen Murray. Knuble won the job. Suddenly, at age 30, he jumped to 30 goals.

“That was kind of a start and kind of really changed the direction of my career,” Knuble said. “That’s kind of how it came about.”

Knuble went from a third- or fourth-liner to a guy taking a regular shift with skilled players and contributing on the power play, scoring gritty goals around the net, speaking up as a leader in the dressing room. Since his breakout season, he has ranged from 20 to 34 goals with the Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Capitals.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Knuble said. “It took me a while to find my game, how I was going to be successful, and you need a chance. I had a really good chance in Boston. I was lucky. Sometimes you get a chance you can’t do anything with, and I was really able to parlay it into something. I’ve been very consistent since, and I think I’m pretty dependable in that respect, by playing a lot of games and kind of doing the same thing.”

THIRD PERIOD

This is not the tweet you want to read if you’re a Flyers fan. On Thursday morning, @tpanotch – a.k.a. Tim Panaccio, the veteran Flyers beat writer now working for CSNPhilly.com – posted this alarming nugget on his Twitter account: “Bob just gave up two 60 footers in skate.”

Uh-oh. This comes before the Flyers face the rival Penguins on Thursday night, and this comes after Bob – a.k.a. Sergei Bobrovsky(notes), the rookie Flyers goaltender – got yanked Tuesday night after allowing three goals on nine shots against the Capitals.

The Flyers have to find out if Bobrovsky can bounce back in a big game, because here they are atop the Eastern Conference, with a deep, veteran group capable of winning the Stanley Cup, yet with the same old anxiety about their goaltending. Bobrovsky has seemed like the solution at times this season. Other times, he has been a cause.

Bobrovsky, an unknown 22-year-old from central Russia, unexpectedly won a job in the preseason. He went on a 9-0-1 tear early. Then he fell into a 4-6-2 funk. Then he won six straight. Then he went through a 4-6-2 stretch again. His last two games? A 28-save, 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars, followed by that stinker against the Caps.

“He’ll bounce back,” Flyers center Danny Briere(notes) said. “I’m not too worried. It’s not the first time. He has had a couple of bad games earlier this year, and he was able to bounce back. It happens.”

But can it keep happening?

The Flyers made it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final last season despite going through goalies throughout the regular season and playoffs, and they still have veteran Brian Boucher(notes), who took over for the injured Michael Leighton(notes) during last year’s run. So maybe they’re good enough to overcome inconsistency in net.

And Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has won a Cup with a rookie goaltender before, in 2006 with the Carolina HurricanesCam Ward(notes). But Bobrovsky isn’t just a rookie. He doesn’t speak much English. He has played 2,576 minutes this season, when he never played more than 1,964 in a season in Russia. And the NHL Official Guide & Record Book lists no playoff experience in Russia, let alone any in North America.

How much will he get this season?

OVERTIME

When I played youth hockey, I loved picture day – not because of the picture, but because it was the one day we were allowed to put on full gear and full uniforms except for our helmets. It was the one day we were allowed to skate around and fool around, firing a few pucks, if only for a few minutes, while feeling the wind in our hair. (Yes, at one time, I had hair.) It just felt cool. It felt big-time.

And after listening to the Vancouver CanucksRaffi Torres(notes), I wonder if that kind of feeling is one of the root reasons why some players still choose not to wear visors in the NHL, even though they occasionally see gruesome eye injuries like the one suffered last week by Torres’ teammate, Manny Malhotra(notes).

“I’ve been talking to a few of the guys, and if they would have told us that we had to keep our visors on out of junior, it probably would have been a lot different,” Torres said. “But coming in to the NHL, you get all excited. You feel like taking the visor off means you’ve made it.”

Once players take off their visor, they get used to it. They say they see the puck better, that they have better peripheral vision. They say it becomes a personal preference.

But like Torres said, what if they never had the choice? What if they never had the chance to get used to it? And what if they weren’t looking up to players without visors? What if they never equated taking off their visors with making it?

I’m not banging the drum for making visors mandatory. These are big boys. They know the risk.

But it would make perfect sense if the NHL required all incoming players to wear visors, as it once did with helmets. We have to balance the players’ personal preference and performance with not only the risk to their health, but the potential damage to the team if they are unnecessarily injured. Malhotra is out for the rest of the season as the Canucks try to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 40 seasons.

And I don’t understand why players would take that risk. As cool as it felt to skate around helmetless on picture day, I always returned to reality when I put my helmet back on and saw all the scratches and nicks on my full shield, knowing every one of them could have meant stitches in my face – or worse. Wouldn’t have been a pretty picture.

SHOOTOUT

• How big of a loss is Malhotra? After back-to-back second-round losses to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canucks needed to add grit, depth and defense to go farther in the playoffs. Their main acquisitions were Malhotra and Torres up front and Keith Ballard(notes) and Dan Hamhuis(notes) on the blue line. Malhotra has been great on faceoffs, on the penalty kill and in the dressing room. “He’s definitely one of those guys that they didn’t have before,” the Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg(notes) said. “They’re No. 1 in the league after making some changes, and definitely he’s one of those good changes.”

• The 10-point lead the Canucks have built in the Western Conference is incredible considering the injuries they have endured and the parity in the league, especially in the West. The second-place Red Wings have a 10-point cushion, too. But it’s over the 10th-place Calgary Flames. “I think we all know math a little bit,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin(notes) said with a smile.

• This could be a recipe for first-round upsets. The top two teams in the East could start rookie goaltenders in the playoffs: the Flyers (Bobrovsky) and the Caps (pick one of three). Look at the goaltenders for the teams fighting for the last two playoff spots: the seventh-place Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist(notes), who has been a finalist multiple times for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. The eighth-place Buffalo Sabres have Ryan Miller(notes), last year’s Vezina winner. The ninth-place Hurricanes have Ward, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player in 2006.

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray raised eyebrows by giving goaltender Craig Anderson(notes) a four-year, $12.75 million extension. Anderson has played only 11 games for the Sens since Murray acquired him from the Colorado Avalanche. He struggled with the Avs this year, and he has had only one strong, full season in the NHL. But that season was last season, when he led the upstart Avs to the playoffs, and Murray must have had this in mind when he traded Brian Elliott(notes), a pending restricted free agent, for Anderson, a pending unrestricted free agent. Anderson has played well in his small sampling with the Sens – 6-4-0, 2.11 goals-against average, .938 save percentage – and he has shown that he can thrive when all isn’t well in front of him, as should be the case in Ottawa for a while.

• So Anderson got four years and $12.75 million from the Senators. Antti Niemi(notes) got four years and $15.2 million from the San Jose Sharks. And before that, Jimmy Howard(notes) got only two years and $4.5 million from the Red Wings? That deal looks better and better for Wings GM Ken Holland, who wants to keep his goaltending costs down and his salary structure intact. Still, it doesn’t look bad to Howard, who is tied for the league lead in wins with 34, but recognizes the value of playing for a team that helps him rack up those wins. “Just being with this organization for six years, you learn to put the team before you,” said Howard, whose other numbers aren’t as impressive this season – 2.77 goals-against average, .909 save percentage. “I wasn’t looking to go out there and strike a home run deal or anything like that. I wanted to stay here.”

@cotsonika tweet of the week: “An octopus hits the ice. Who has been hiding that all this time, figuring the Wings would come back from 4-0 to force overtime?” (Just before OT on Monday night, when the Penguins beat the Red Wings, 5-4, in a shootout.)