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Penguins defend Cooke; Bennett recalled

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 5:09 p.m.
AP Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson grimaces as he falls to the ice after colliding with Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Matt Cooke, left, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. Karlsson was helped off the ice. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar)
Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, center, grimaces as he hits the boards after colliding with Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Matt Cooke during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. Karlsson was helped off the ice. AP Photo |Gene J. Puskar

There was a time when even some of Matt Cooke's teammates were upset with his on-ice behavior.

Those days are long gone.

To a man, the Penguins defended Cooke following a barrage of criticism from the Ottawa Senators stemming from an incident in which star defenseman Erik Karlsson sustained a season-ending Achilles injury after being clipped by Cooke's skate blade.

“It's pretty obvious what happened was an accident,” defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “Even if you're trying to do that to someone, you're not going to be able to pull that off.”

Penguins general manager Ray Shero spoke with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan on Thursday. Shanahan assured Shero that Cooke would not be disciplined and that he believed the incident was purely accidental.

Cooke was upset by Karlsson's injury but emphatic that he possessed no malicious intent.

“I understand,” he said of Ottawa's anger. “If it was Sid (Sidney Crosby) or Tanger (Kris Letang), I'm sure the reaction in Pittsburgh and within our team would be really upset. If you look at the video … it's purely an accident.”

His teammates had Cooke's back. Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean ripped Cooke following the game, suggesting Cooke's reputation speaks for itself.

“I understand where they're coming from, but the fact is there was nothing wrong with what Cookie did,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Slow motion can make things look so much worse. It wasn't bad at all.”

Former Penguins center Jordan Staal sustained a similar injury during the 2010 postseason when Montreal defenseman PK Subban tramped on his leg.

“I remember what Subban did to Staalsy,” Tyler Kennedy said. “We didn't make that big of a deal out of it. Skates are sharp. Sometimes it cuts you.”

The Penguins were not pleased Ottawa enforcer Chris Neil attacked Cooke in the third period.

“It wasn't intentional,” Engelland said of Cooke's hit. “By all means it wasn't dirty. For Neil to go after him, it's pretty sad.”

The Penguins play the Senators once more this season, April 22 in Ottawa.

Karlsson had season-ending surgery Thursday to repair the tendon. Murray said the surgery went well. He also said 70 percent of the tendon was cut.

“It's unfortunate,” Cooke said. “I feel awful that Erik has to deal with it. It's just a freak accident.”

And nothing more than an accident, according to Cooke's teammates.

“It was an emotional response,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said about the Senators. “You know that the media is allowed in your room five minutes after the game. Sometimes it's better to say ‘no comment' and talk about it the next day. There wasn't anything wrong with the hit.”

Hello, Beau

Left wing Beau Bennett, the team's 2010 first-round draft pick, could make his NHL debut Friday in Winnipeg. Coach Dan Bylsma informed Bennett, who was in town for a medical check-up, that he had been recalled at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Bylsma said that if Bennett plays in Winnipeg, he could see time on the second power play. He was noncommittal about what line Bennett would play on.

“I haven't been really told anything yet,” Bennett said.

Around the boards

Center Evgeni Malkin and center Brandon Sutter (who turned 24 on Thursday) were given the day off from practice. Both will play in Winnipeg. ... General manager Ray Shero attended the game between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday night. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher was Shero's top assistant with the Penguins from 2006-09.

The Associated press contributed. Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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