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Cooke's collision causes chaos in Penguins' loss

WASHINGTON — Leave it to a reasonably dull 3-0 Penguins loss to the Washington Capitals on Sunday to fuel hockey's hottest rivalry.

Despite his team soundly defeating the shorthanded Penguins, who are without star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau unleashed a postgame tirade aimed at Penguins forward Matt Cooke.

Boudreau took issue with a collision between Cooke and Capitals' star Alex Ovechkin with 3:42 left in a game that was preceded by talk of possible retaliation for a Capitals hit against Crosby during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.

"It's Matt Cooke," Boudreau said. "Need we say more?"

Boudreau said much more.

"It's not like it's his first rodeo," he said. "He's done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says, 'What did I do?' He knows (darn) well what he did. There's no doubt in my mind."

Boudreau made it clear he believes Cooke, who was penalized, tried to injure Ovechkin.

"He's good at it," Boudreau said. "He knows how to pick this stuff. We, as a league, we still buy into this, 'Oh, it was accidental thing.' "

Boudreau coached Cooke for a part of the 2007-08 season. Cooke, who met with reporters about 20 minutes before Boudreau's comments, seemed puzzled by the commotion his collision caused. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both landed punches on Cooke's face following the hit, though neither was penalized.

"I just tracked the puck," Cooke said. "He cut back on me. We clicked skates."

Boudreau wasn't irritated only by Cooke's hit but with the Penguins in general. In the third period, forward Tim Wallace, who was recalled Saturday from Wilkes-Barre, challenged Capitals left wing David Steckel to a fight and defeated him cleanly.

Steckel threw a blindside hit on Sidney Crosby during the Winter Classic, a blow some believe has caused Crosby's current concussion issues. Boudreau was incensed that the Penguins challenged the 6-foot-5, 217-pound Steckel to a fight.

"If anybody wants to build up this whole Crosby thing," Boudreau said, "I mean, he didn't hit him intentionally. I've coached him for eight years now, and he's never done it once. If they want to use that as a motivating tool, go ahead."

Regarding Wallace picking a fight with Steckel, Boudreau continued, "They send out a guy they call up and Mike Rupp, who's a fighter (and) knows Dave never fought, challenging him. It was crap."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma didn't seem bothered by anything Cooke did.

Ovechkin drew the Penguins' ire two years ago in the playoffs when his knee-on-knee hit injured Sergei Gonchar.

"I didn't think much contact was made (by Cooke)," Bylsma said.

The Penguins didn't make much contact with the back of Washington's net. Crosby and Malkin, who is likely out for the season with a knee injury, were missed badly, as the Penguins rarely generated any offense.

"Make no mistake about it," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "They're our two best players. We miss them. But we've shown we can play well without them. (Sunday) wasn't our best game."

Brooks Laich scored on a rebound late in the first period to put the Capitals ahead, Marcus Johansson scored a shorthanded goal early in the second, and Mike Knuble put the game away with an empty-netter. Michal Neuvirth stopped all 22 shots he faced.

The teams meet again Feb. 21 in Pittsburgh.

"They don't like us," Boudreau said. "We don't like them."

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