Senators seemingly still upset with Penguins' Cooke
OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators spoke at length before Monday about ignoring Penguins left wing Matt Cooke and focusing on claiming two points in their pursuit of a playoff berth.
Less than two minutes into the game, though, the truth was revealed: Cooke remains in the Ottawa players' heads.
The Senators challenged Cooke to a fight during his first shift, and moments later, defenseman Eric Gryba was penalized for interference, going out of his way to belt Cooke.
Gryba's decision to attack Cooke contrasted with his comments from nine hours earlier.
“It hasn't even crossed my mind to worry about him,” Gryba said. “This is a big win for us. We want to go out there and get two points.”
Getting two points seemed secondary to Ottawa on each of Cooke's first two shifts as several Senators went out of their way to make contact.
On Cooke's first shift, Ottawa right wing Chris Neil confronted Cooke at the Penguins' blue line and repeatedly challenged him to a fight. Cooke, in a familiar scene, ignored Neil.
Ottawa's outrage against Cooke stems to February when Cooke's skate blade sliced through the back of star defenseman Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon. Karlsson hasn't played since but is believed to be close to returning.
“That play was an accident,” Penguins right wing Jarome Iginla said. “I guess they're still upset about it.”
Neil challenged Cooke to a fight the evening of Karlsson's injury and received the same disinterest from Cooke on that occasion. Cooke rarely fights, though he did in 2010 when playing in Boston for the first time since delivering a controversial hit against now-retired Bruins center Marc Savard.
“What happened between me and Erik is a complete freak accident,” said Cooke, who was swamped by dozens of Canadian media members before the game Monday. “I've said it before. I'm glad he's close to coming back.”
Cooke shrugged off the ambush following the game.
“We won,” he said. “That was the most important thing. We wanted the two points. Obviously, I feel terrible about what happened. There's nothing I could have done to change it.”
The Penguins were more than willing to defend Cooke on Monday.
“I like how we handled it,” teammate Douglas Murray said.
The Senators claimed to not feel any additional desire to confront Cooke even though team owner Eugene Melnyk launched a “forensic investigation” into Cooke's actions against Karlsson. Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray also publicly ripped Cooke on numerous occasions since the incident.
The Penguins were unmoved.
Left wing Brenden Morrow, who wasn't with the Penguins at the time of the incident, said it was unlikely Cooke had bad intentions.
“That's hockey,” Morrow said. “It's a fast game. Things happen. No one goes out there trying to intentionally slice a guy open. That's not the way it is.
“One time, I got stepped on, cut nine tendons in my wrist. The last thing I did was blame (Radim) Vrbata.”