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No punishment for head hit on Cooke

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson's shot to Penguins left wing Matt Cooke's head Thursday night will not draw a penalty from the NHL.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma insisted Friday that Cooke's reputation for dirty play did not affect NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan's decision to hold a hearing with Carlson, let alone punish him.

"In no way, shape or form do I think his reputation plays into the decision at all," Bylsma said. "I don't think there's any kind of spite factor or anything. Not at all."

Cooke was not available for comment yesterday because he did not participate in the team's optional practice in advance of tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Bylsma confirmed that the hit did not injure Cooke but suggested the player wasn't thrilled about taking a shot to the head.

"Cooke is fine," Bylsma said.

After asked whether Cooke had any effects from the hit, Bylsma added: "Maybe emotionally."

With about four seconds remaining in the Penguins' 2-1 victory Thursday, Carlson delivered the hit as the Capitals were trying to move the puck out of their zone seeking one last scoring chance. Cooke skated toward puck carrier Nicklas Backstrom, and all three players ended up in the same patch of ice. Backstrom chipped the puck ahead and dodged contact, but Carlson collided with Cooke while extending his right arm, which appeared to make contact with Cooke's head.

NHL spokesman John Dellapina said yesterday that Carlson won't face a hearing -- and therefore can't be suspended.

"The Department of Player Safety reviewed it extensively," Dellapina said. "Its view was that Carlson didn't see Cooke until the last moment. He might even have been blocked by (Capitals left wing Alex) Ovechkin. When Carlson sees he's going to collide with Cooke, he cringes rather than leaning into him. ... The most troubling-looking moment is when Carlson flares his right arm. But that, in the DPS' view, was more an effort to ward off Cooke while getting up the ice."

The timing of Carlson's hit -- in the waning seconds with the outcome all but decided -- wouldn't be considered as grounds for punishment, Dellapina added.

"Given the time left and the score," he said, "it appears clear that Carlson is desperate to get up the ice for a last rush -- not to hit an opponent out of the play."

Carlson was curt with reporters in Washington when asked yesterday about whether he expected to face punishment.

"No," he said. "No."

Carlson was asked about the specifics of the hit, including whether his intent was to strike Cooke's head.

"No," he said. "No. I'm not talking about it."

Similar hits to the head this season have, at the least, resulted in hearings with Shanahan. Bylsma acknowledged that policing such hits isn't easy, but he also didn't seem pleased with Carlson's actions.

"I think there is a difference when there's a hit and elbows come out where the head is targeted," he said. "I think there is not so much of a gray area when we see that happen on the ice."

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