NHL Boston Bruins

James Neal and Brooks Orpik Reviving Pittsburgh Penguins-Boston Bruins Rivalry

Charles LeClaire- USA TODAY Sports

James Neal was suspended five games for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head. That’s right — a professional hockey player actually thought it was a good idea to knee someone in the head. Neal clearly extended his knee into the head of a fallen Marchand the other night. Not only did Neal skate into Marchand, he also had ample time to get out of the way.

It’s no secret that the game got out of hand. Brooks Orpik lit up Loui Eriksson with a shot to the head in a wild first period. Orpik completed the hit and then failed to answer the call when Shawn Thornton came calling. The NHL polices itself. If you are going to lay a dirty hit, you have to fight. If Orpik had dropped the gloves and just held on for dear life, the game would have settled itself.

I don’t really blame Orpik for passing on taking a beating from Thornton, but you have to answer that call as a player. When players don’t settle things the way that they are meant to in the game of hockey, ugly things happen. There is no excuse for running your knee into a player’s head. It is one of the dirtiest plays in hockey.

The Boston Bruins are already depleted with injuries. If Marchand got seriously hurt due to an egregious play, the Bruins and the NHL would be in a world of hurt. The NHL cannot afford to have these type of plays shown on Sports Center. It’s to important to player safety and to public perception. Higher fines and longer suspensions are exactly what the league needs.

I can’t wait for a playoff meeting between these two teams. Neal and  Thornton may have just turned this into the best rivalry in hockey. The two teams’ history over the past few years has been rather incredible. The Pittsburgh Penguins pretty much ended Marc Savard‘s career, they stole Jarome Iginla last year before the playoffs, and the Bruins swept them in four games in the postseason.

These two teams just have bad blood. Since Marchand is okay, I think its safe to say thank you to Neal for taking this rivalry to a whole new level.

Tony is a columnist for rantsports.com you can follow him on twitter.