Cooke ejected for hit from behind
Matt Cooke, the Penguins will tell you, really has changed.
His reputation remains.
Cooke, the NHL's longstanding bad boy who has cleaned up his game during the past two seasons, was ejected for the first time since 2011 on Saturday during the Penguins' 3-0 loss against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
Cooke was given a five-minute boarding penalty for hitting Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid from behind. The Penguins weren't thrilled with the call.
“Clearly a hit right through the numbers,” said coach Dan Bylsma, admitting that the hit deserved a penalty. “I don't think it was rough hit. I think he was going into the boards with him. I'm not sure I thought it warranted a five-minute penalty.”
Boston coach Claude Julien didn't necessarily disagree.
Julien said he didn't have a good view of the hit and preferred not to offer an opinion. However, in an interview with NBC during the contest, Julien said McQuaid “put himself in a vulnerable position.”
Indeed, an instant before Cooke delivered the hit, McQuaid turned his shoulders toward Cooke. The defenseman then turned his back to Cooke, who took one stride before delivering the hit.
Cooke was not available to discuss the incident. His teammates, while acknowledging a penalty was deserved, widely came to his defense.
“Personally, I didn't think it did (warrant an ejection),” forward Jarome Iginla said. “It happens so fast.”
What incensed the Penguins wasn't just that Cooke received a major penalty, but that on a similar hit later in the game, Boston's Brad Marchand did not receive the same punishment.
Marchand took multiple strides before hitting right wing James Neal from behind into the boards by the Penguins bench. He immediately was assessed a two-minute penalty.
“I don't see the difference,” center Sidney Crosby said.
Marchand doesn't possess Cooke's reputation, nor is he expected to be nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy anytime soon. Many of the Penguins believe comparable punishments would have been appropriate.
“Marchand's hit almost could have been more dangerous,” Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Nealer was farther from the boards than (McQuaid) was. He was more vulnerable. He was hit more awkwardly. It's a dangerous play.”
Cooke had not been ejected since a 2011 incident against the New York Rangers resulted in a 17-game suspension. Cooke used the summer of 2011 to clean up his game and has since stated that he believes he is a better person for the soul-searching he practiced during that time.
“It was a judgment call by the refs,” Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “Whether it was wrong or right, it doesn't matter.”
Other than the incident in which Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson sustained a partially ripped Achilles tendon — few outside of Ottawa believe Cooke had bad intentions during that February game — Cooke has played a clean game during the past few seasons.