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Ignore the Bait, Win a Series

In this city, sports villains seem to reach a more iconic status than heroes. Talking about any of the four major sports franchises, it's clear that Boston hates the bad guys more than it loves the good guys. Ulf Samuelsson, Bucky Dent, Magic Johnson and the others are as canonical as their counterparts wearing the right colors.

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Saturday night, the Bruins and the Penguins play the first game of the Eastern Conference Final everyone outside of Montreal and New York knew was coming. The significance of these next four to seven games is more than enough to fill news pages and blog spots without the side stories inevitably sprinkled in and beat to death.

Jarome Iginla and Matt Cooke are two of those side stories. A legend of the game and a fairly unremarkable pest each curl the lips of Boston sports fans for different decisions and actions. Iginla, of course, killed a trade that would've landed him in Black and Gold, rather than Black and Yellow, because he believed the latter gave him a better chance to win a championship -- he was right, by the way. Cooke, meanwhile, threw the elbow that led to the end of Marc Savard's career.

Cooke's status on that Mount Rushmore of Bruins' villains is already assured. Even with the Stanley Cup of 2011 and the Bruins' continued excellence, Cooke's stray elbow altered the Bruins franchise and the career of a player that found a home in our city. He'll get booed every time he touches the puck in Boston for the rest of his career -- Iginla too, probably.

None of it matters, though. Cooke just isn't important enough to warrant this kind of consideration. Given his present company, Iginla isn't either. He's the fourth or fifth option on a team so comically deep that its power-play units seem like they were the product of fan voting.

The Bruins can't concern themselves with getting revenge on Cooke or Iginla beyond trying to score more goals than they do.

The first time these clubs met after each of the incidents that made them the Bad Guys turned in the Penguins' favor, seemingly, because the Bruins bit a little too deeply into the storyline. Shawn Thornton punched Cooke a few extra times. Nathan Horton dropped the gloves with Iginla. And the Penguins won both games.

Wednesday, Milan Lucic admitted to Joe Haggerty and probably a few other members of the media that Cooke's elbow is still "in the back of his mind." The comments don't smack of dwelling or a lack of focus, so much as Lucic saying "yes, I remember when that happened. Matt Cooke is not a person I like." There isn't anything ostensibly wrong with that, unless, of course, it results in behavior that hurts the Bruins' chances of winning a game and a series.

Similarly, there's little doubting that the players were insulted when Iginla decided they didn't present his best chance to win a trophy. The presence of Jaromir Jagr likely means they won't broach that topic too much in the next few weeks, lest another distraction present itself.

The increasingly stoic and literal responses players, coaches and front office types give during this time of year makes inference even more fun than it is during the season. It's hard to tell exactly what they're saying except that it's pretty obvious that they're always just saying "I don't care. I want to win." The Bruins certainly want to win this series, but they need to show that's the only thing on their collective mind by ignoring anything about Iginla, Cooke or any other Penguin that doesn't have to do with beating them.

In 2011, Alexandre Burrows became a minor villain with his infamous nibble of Patrice Bergeron's finger during one of the 3 million scrums in that series. The Bruins ultimately got the revenge they wanted on Burrows and his teammates. It wasn't Tim Thomas punching him or Dennis Seidenberg leveling him every time he approached the crease. It was winning four games to Vancouver's three, including a final one in the Rogers Centre, that completed the mission.

With Cooke and Iginla on the other side this series, there's a simple way to seize vengeance on both of them. Jarome Iginla preferred a trade to Pittsburgh because he believed it gave him the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. Don't fight him. Don't target him more than necessary. Don't badmouth him in the media.

Just prove him wrong.