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Pens' Cooke downplays reunion with Sens

| Monday, May 13, 2013, 10:54 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Matt Cooke practices Monday, May 13, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Matt Cooke during practice, Monday, May 13, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Matt Cooke during practice Monday, May 13, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

In his most recent visit to Ottawa, Matt Cooke was booed lustily, became the focal point of a parking lot rally, was bombarded by dozens of media members before the game and challenged to fights by numerous Senators during it.

He hasn't seen anything yet.

The Penguins and Senators begin their Eastern Conference semifinals series Tuesday at Consol Energy Center, and although the series is oozing with storylines, Cooke's polarizing presence will be at the fore.

He is considered the ultimate villain in the Senators' organization, a cheap-shot artist who intentionally injured star defenseman Erik Karlsson.

However, in the Penguins locker room, another story is told.

“Cookie really does get a bad rap,” right wing Tyler Kennedy said. “We all know that.”

Cooke was one of the Penguins' most effective players in the first round against the New York Islanders, maintaining the straight-line style that has worked for him even while many teammates reverted to a high-risk style of hockey that coach Dan Bylsma would prefer his team avoid.

Cooke's history of dangerous hits is well known, but such hits have disappeared during the past two seasons. The Penguins see a different Cooke even if the rest of the NHL labels him without giving the subject much thought.

“It's unfortunate,” left wing Brenden Morrow said. “Sometimes his reputation determines calls that refs make. It's all stuff from the past. There are still some grudges held. He plays hard. He plays on the edge. But I'll tell you what, he's a great teammate to have.”

Cooke was asked numerous times Monday about his feud with the Senators, but he wasn't interested in discussing it. Karlsson injured his Achilles tendon in the February collision with Cooke. Few outside of Ottawa believe Cooke's hit was intended to injure, but when the Penguins returned to Ottawa on April 21, Cooke was challenged to confrontations throughout the game.

“You'd have to ask them,” Cooke responded to a question about more fisticuffs being imminent.

If Cooke is in the Senators' heads, he doesn't mind.

“I've always approached games that if teams are thinking about me and worrying about me, then they aren't focused on what they're supposed to do,” Cooke said.

Cooke wouldn't bite when asked whether Ottawa players took runs at him.

“You can base your own opinion on that,” he said.

Cooke has not spoken about Senators owner Eugene Melnyk's “forensic investigation” into the collision.

Melnyk has said he is convinced Cooke's intentions were not pure and indicated that information from his investigation won't be released until after the postseason.

Many Penguins players simply smile and shake their head. Finding a way to defeat the Senators is all that concerns them.

“You've got to win games,” center Sidney Crosby said. “There are always storylines in a playoff series. This one's easy because of what happened, but there'll be something else after Game 1. It's the playoffs.”

Cooke is worried only about winning.

“I don't have any of that (other) stuff on my mind,” he said. “Ever.”

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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