NHL Playoffs Continue And The Saga Of Matt Cooke!

Marc Elliott

SILVER CLIFF… I have to say that a mere 12 days into a tournament that has the potential to go on another seven weeks, I can’t remember a Stanley Cup tourney with this  quality of a quarterfinals round as this year. It has been fantastic. Both conferences are featuring series that could be conference finals in other seasons. The Montreal-Tampa Bay series was intense even though the Habs ended it in four games. Boston and Detroit ended in a 4-1 Bruin series win, but that’s two historic clubs there, and it was closer than it looked. The NY Rangers and Flyers series has been intense with the Rangers up 3-2. Even the BlueJacket-Pengwah series has had its shares of intrigue, and the Pens could end it Monday eve (tomorrow night) with a Game 6 win.
In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues this aft to take the series 4-2. This marks the second year in a row that STL has won the first two games of a first-round series only to end up losing the next four tilts. Right now I am observing the Anaheim Ducks and the Dallas NorthStars battle it out in the Big “D” with the NorthStars up 3-2 in the second period, their playoff survival hanging on a victory tonight. After beating the LA Kings in the first three games of their series, the Sharks have now lost two straight and will face off with the Kings in an epic Game 6. Earlier in the week I listened intently to a well-known analyst state that we all know how impossible it is to win four straight after going down 3-0 in a series, but if there’s a team in this year’s tourney that can pull it off, it just might be the Kings. We will find out soon enough.
And for the locals, the Minnesota Wild, they are down 3-2 after dropping an OT tilt in Denver last night. A battle for the ages will be held in St. Paul tomorrow eve, and saying  this might be one of the biggest games in the history of this club would be a vast understatement. It’s not lost on me that these two clubs have history. In 2003 the Wild ended the storied career of the Av’s current coach, Patrick Roy. Just for the heck of it I’ll replay Andrew Burnette’s OT game winner every three to four months. I smile every time. I have mixed feelings on Patty Rooo-ah. Being a longtime Montreal Canadiens fan, he was obviously a Habs hero for many years and won two Cups while there.
I hardly liked the way he exited the Habs, getting shelled in a game whereby then-coach for the Habs Mario Tremblay (former Wild asst.) didn’t remove him, and then stalking off the ice and demanding a trade, stating that he had indeed “played his last game for the Habs.” I could understand his feelings after that game, but the way he tinkled on the club on his way out was without class, in my opinion. This could have been done behind closed doors, but Patty took it public, and that was the end of his tenure there. He went on to more career success with the Avalanche until the Wild bid him adieu on that fateful night in April 2003. The Wild made it through to the conference final before elimination by the Ducks.
The team made the tourney in the 06-07 season and were dropped by the eventual champion Ducks. In 2008 they won the old Northwest Division title and were beat by the Av’s in six games in the opening round for some more history. This was a contentious series without much pushback from the Wild. Then roster, coaching, and ownership changes unfolded and a playoff drought ensued before the team made it last year, losing out to the Blackhawks in five games. I seriously believe they can win Monday eve and go out to the Mile High City and win a Game 7. The team had Games 1 and 5 won out there and didn’t hold on. In my book the Wild should have already won this series 4 to 1. I am hoping they can come through with their best hockey of the year….
AS YOU KNOW, WILD forward Matt Cooke has been suspended for seven games by the NHL for a knee-to-knee hit on the Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie. If you have seen the video, you really can’t argue what happened or that Cooke should be suspended. The visuals of this incident are compelling. Barrie will miss four to six weeks if the Av’s continue on that long. I have heard some fans and media argue that Cooke should get anything from 10 games to a career ban considering his history of events of this nature. Considering the way the league approaches matters like this, I believed Cooke would get an 8– to 10-game ban, and any more than the seven he received would have been hard to argue against.
However, I have observed Cooke for a long time, especially during his Pengwah tenure. After his last major suspension in 2011, the Pengwah issued an ultimatum to Cooke to alter his game or fall out of favor with the club. Cooke, to his credit, worked hard to do just that. He refocused on playing the game in a cleaner fashion and gained some new respect for this. So what happened that led to this situation? I’m not certain. The video evidence is irrefutable: he clearly had his knee extended several feet before making contact with Barrie. The results are not up for debate, either. Barrie is injured and out, even if the Av’s continue on. I can’t and won’t defend this, either—the game doesn’t need this.
I can say, though, that in observing Cooke since his 2011 suspension, he knew he was on a short leash. So did everyone else in the league. I have seen him hacked and whacked and a variety of other physical offenses done to him. I have seen him initially in the middle of a post-whistle scrum getting away from it as soon as possible, even when others are goading him to join in—even when a referee has a hold of him and is escorting him away from the human mass while the opposition is punching him in the face with no calls from the referees, who are almost hit themselves while holding Cooke. The NHL can be a cruel place, and apparently guys who have lived on the edge like Cooke are fair game for those who aren’t restrained by the history of past transgressions. At the end of the day, I commend Cookie for his re-do but can’t defend his latest slip-up. The suspension was probably more than fair to him… PEACE

Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.