Cooke’s fresh legs help Wild win Game 4
Matt Cooke brooded for 18 days serving a seven-game NHL suspension for his wayward takeout of Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie during the first round, banished to cheerleader as the Wild plowed deep into their next series against Chicago.
Minnesota’s dissident left winger and most experienced playoff performer sprung from his trap Friday night as soon as he touched the ice at the Xcel Energy Center. Cooke unloaded his pent-up aggression on the unsuspecting Blackhawks, immediately dictating the terms of Game 4 and helping fuel the Wild to a 4-2 victory.
Cooke crunched defenseman Duncan Keith behind the goal line on his first shift. Next, he blocked a shot during a Blackhawks flurry.
His third time out, Cooke picked the pocket of flat-footed defenseman Michal Rozsival in the Chicago zone, creating a turnover that led to Justin Fontaine’s opening goal.
“I should have fresh legs,” Cooke quipped. “I’ve got to go out there and lead the way. Hopefully, my energy’s contagious. I felt like we were ready to go tonight right from the drop of the puck.”
Cooke, a veteran of 101 playoff games who won the 2009 Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, rejoined Minnesota on the ice Wednesday. He aimed to bury the Barrie incident, which resulted in his fourth league suspension but first since 2011, and refocus on his role as reformed agitator.
He maintained a rigorous off-ice regimen during his sentence. He stayed after practice and skated, without pucks, when his teammates were peeling off their equipment in the dressing room.
In his first game back, Cooke wanted to drive the bus and not be a passenger.
“I pushed myself because I believe in this group. I believe in the quality of the group, especially after we won in Colorado,” he said. “I knew I was going to get a chance to play again so it was a push from then on. So when I got the opportunity to go out and play again I wasn’t just going to be a guy on the perimeter that wasn’t able to help my team.
“They helped me a lot and I wanted to go out and return the favor. Part of that was my staying ready.”
Cooke’s assist was his second in four playoff games for the Wild. He led the team with five hits in Game 4. The third line was a ball of fury, with Fontaine bagging his first playoff goal after assisting on Haula’s Game 3 winner.
Haula, a rookie having a fantastic postseason at both ends of the ice, welcomed the opportunity to ride shotgun with an old warrior like Cooke.
“It’s awesome,” Haula said. “He works his (butt) off. He does everything for the team. He’s a good guy to have in the locker room. We’re glad to have him back. It was a nice reward for him to get back and get another swing at it.”
Minnesota’s energy line had eight shots and kept the Blackhawks on their heels. Cooke’s presence required defenders to keep their heads on a swivel. Play keep away and create chaos. That is exactly the point against an explosive team like the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“The most important thing is to get in the offensive zone, get in on the forecheck and create havoc,” Cooke said.
“It may not always lead to a goal but it may lead to a 30-second shift in the offensive zone which is 30 seconds the defensemen or whoever we’re playing has to defend.”
Cooke was suspended, but he was a regular presence in Minnesota’s dressing room, high-fiving teammates after big wins and counseling those following tough losses. But there is no substitute for the shared battle.
Cooke missed competing. It was evident from the start he was thrilled to be back.
“I felt like I had a lot of jump,” he said. “Just to get in and get on the forecheck, create some energy and it turned into a scoring chance. Fonzie made a good shot. It’s fun to contribute and chip in. Just fun to be back out there again.”