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Penguins awaiting word on Cooke, Kunitz

| Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Penguins' task of producing a consistent forecheck against Ottawa is already daunting, given that the Senators deploy among the NHL's largest and most physical group of defensemen.

If Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke can't play tonight, the chore becomes much more difficult.

Kunitz and Cooke are game-time decisions in a series that would likely see the Penguins rely on those players' skills even more than usual, assuming they can play.

Cooke hasn't played since Saturday in Atlanta, when he was the recipient of a knockout punch from Evander Kane. Kunitz, meanwhile, has been plagued by injuries all season and is dealing with a shoulder problem.

"Today was a step in the right direction," Cooke said.

Both are questionable for tonight's game, though Kunitz didn't sound like he would be playing. He did not skate on a regular line during Tuesday's practice at Southpointe.

"I'm still day to day, waiting it out," Kunitz said. "We'll see. It's frustrating. But you have to make sure you're healthy before you're back in the lineup."

The Penguins want to be physical with the Ottawa defense, and no two players are capable of wreaking havoc down low than Kunitz and Cooke, arguably the biggest hitters among the team's forwards. Kunitz only scored one goal in the 2008-09 postseason, but his continual battering of opposing defensemen was invaluable.

Cooke is emerging from one of his finest regular seasons and was a reliable contributor on the third line during last year's Stanley Cup run.

There appears to be more optimism regarding Cooke's ability to play, but his availability remains unclear. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma deemed both players, along with defenseman Brooks Orpik, game-time decisions.

"It's a process once you get knocked in the head a little bit," Cooke said. "I remember pretty much everything, being back in the dressing room and skating off on my own power."

Orpik, who took a skate blade to the leg Saturday in Atlanta, will play.

The Penguins hope Cooke and Kunitz will be ready to play, because their style of play is important in combating Ottawa's size.

"We want to make them play in their own end for as long as possible," Kunitz said. "That's the goal."

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