Big Joe is coming back.
For the second time since he was traded to San Jose on November 30, 2005, Joe Thornton is in Boston to take on the team that drafted him and helped make him a star.
Is this game big?
Yes, of course. It pits the top two teams in the league, the best in each conference, in their own only match of the year. The quiet buzz around the pressroom leads one to assume that is this a preview of what is the prohibitive favorite Stanley Cup match up. Big Joe coming back to Boston, normally the biggest of the big stories, takes a back seat to the teams. Yet, the question becomes. . .
Is this game important?
"Obviously it's two points and every game is two points but I think the magnitude of this one just going to be a test against the best team in the other conference," rookie defenseman Matt Hunwick said after the pre-game skate. "San Jose is the top dog over there, so it will be a good matchup to see exactly where we're at."
Maybe it is just me, but that answer does not scream to me "This is a must win game for us." It almost seems that the Bruins are much more curious than they are driven to beat the Sharks tonight.
Non-conference matches do tend to hold much more of a curiosity factor in the NHL than the other major sports. They are as much about point collecting as about letting the other teams' fans see the stars that they normally do not get to see (with the exception of the ever-exciting Islander v. Coyotes matches). Back up goalies tend to start the non-conference clunkers and teams do not skate quite as hard as they would against a division opponent. That being said, teams cannot lay an egg in all their non-conference games and expect to make the playoffs, but the intensity is often a touch on the softer side.
That will not be the case when the puck drops at 7:10 tonight, rest assured. There is too much pride on the line for each squad to lay down.
The boys on the Bruins have had this game marked, though only within the last couple weeks have they let it be known that it held any room in their brains. It has become "that" game, the game that punctuates one of the hardest stretches of the Bruins season where. In the last two weeks they have played the five teams directly below them in the standings, going a very respectable 6-1-3 in their last tens games.
Now march in the Sharks, the menacing aquatic predators form the West and they bring with them the ghost of a failed decade of Boston hockey, their former savior and number one overall pick, Joe Thornton.
"The way I've looked at these past couple of weeks, because we've played three or four teams that are kind of big, strong teams and this does include San Jose, so I think it's a good test because obviously they have the best record in the West and we're the best in the East so from that viewpoint it's going to be a good game," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said this morning. "I've just looked at the Washington's, the New Jersey's, the Philly's and the San Jose's how we've matched up against them because that's going to be like the playoff hockey against those types of t
eams. So this is just like another test in that respect."
Once again, "just another test." Big game, yes. Ultimately though, the only important thing about tonight's tilt are the two points for the winner and bragging rights for the rest of the season.
The important thing to remember tonight is that bragging rights do not bring Stanley Cups. Big Joe and the Bad Sharks will make for an entertaining evening in the Hub of Hockey but every game after tonight is just as important.
They just won't be as big.