That once-bitter, suddenly renewed Canucks-Wild rivalry threatens to boil over tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
Sure, Todd Bertuzzi, Brian Burke and Jarkko Ruutu are long gone, but there are plenty of Vancouver characters to loathe. Matt Cooke still runs around aimlessly, and Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows have filled vacant agitator roles admirably.
Ever since Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund broke Mikko Koivu's leg with a slash Friday night, both sides have spent five days -- especially Tuesday -- talking so much trash, it would be shocking if tonight's contest didn't live up to the buildup.
"Any time a guy takes a two-hander and breaks another guy's leg, things are bound to get heated," Wild left winger Brian Rolston said.
Monday, the Canucks recalled minor league tough guy Mike Brown (24 fights in the past 13 months), who last season was suspended two games for a blindside hit that left the Wild's Matt Foy with a broken nose and concussion. Wild minor league callup Aaron Voros, who has two goals, one fight and 10 hits in five games, spent Monday night on the Internet studying Brown's fighting tendencies.
It might only be a November regular-season game, but the NHL is also prepared. It's sent animated, take-control veteran ref Mick McGeough in for the game, and the league headquarters will have multiple sets of eyes on this fiery divisional showdown.
"You've got to keep your head up," said right winger Marian Gaborik. "It's going to be a physical game."
The Koivu incident was just one portion of Friday's very chippy game. Stephane Veilleux shot a puck at defenseman Mike Weaver. Gaborik, frustrated with Kesler taking postwhistle runs at him, took a flying leap into Kesler's head.
"It's not like I'm doing it every game," Gaborik said. "It was kind of a one-time deal. ... Guys like Kesler, Cooke run around, especially Cooke. He's always chirping everyone. In [the 2003] playoffs, he was just doing stupid things. He's just like that."
Usually mild-mannered Pierre-Marc Bouchard traded punches with Burrows, something the two did last season, too.
"He runs around, he tries to hurt you, he talks a lot on the ice -- too much," said Bouchard, who's not friendly with Burrows despite them skating together during summers. "Sometimes he just says some stupid stuff, and I know a lot of guys ask him to [fight] and he doesn't want to go."
And finally, Boogaard got into a heated headlock, wrestling match with ex-teammate Willie Mitchell. After the game, Boogaard accused "so-called agitators" such as Cooke, Kesler and Burrows of running and hiding whenever he hopped the boards.
"Boogaard isn't much of a hockey player, so I guess he has to be a tough guy for them," Kesler told Vancouver reporters.
Added Burrows: "It doesn't really bother me what Boogaard says. When he's on the ice, it's a plus for us."
Regarding the comments, Boogaard said, "I'll see them on the ice and see what they have to say. When I got kicked out, they're the ones who became braver. It's just these guys talking. I think their egos hurt a little bit."
Boogaard was taken aback by Kesler, who was cross-checked in the face earlier this season by Philadelphia's Jesse Boulerice.
"I felt sorry for him when Boulerice cross-checked him," Boogaard said. "And then you hear the things that he just said, that's an agitator at his best who doesn't have respect for anybody. He thinks he's better than somebody else. The egos those guys have are sad. Pretty soon, it'll catch up to them, whether it be this year or next year; it always does with those kind of guys.
"I mean, it caught up with Kesler. You watch the clips of the Boulerice thing, you see Kesler hooking him and slashing him before it happened. And obviously there's just a time when you snap."
This is a seven-year rivalry built on sucker punches, hard hits, dirty hits, trash-talking, electrifying goals and a dramatic Wild comeback from 3-1 down to pull off an unexpected postseason upset.
Rolston says the Wild needs to reel it in.
"We can play a physical game, there's no question, but we have to be disciplined," he said. "We took 10 penalties against them last game and they beat us badly. That's what should stick out the most in our minds."