Cole, Ruutu likely to miss Game 2
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke was not suspended Wednesday for a knee-to-knee hit on Erik Cole, one of two injured Carolina Hurricanes forwards who appear likely to miss Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.
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Cooke rammed Cole while the two were crossing in front of the net during the third period of Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory in Game 1 on Monday night. Cole did not practice Wednesday and his status is a game-time decision, although the Hurricanes appeared to be preparing to play without him.
Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu also didn't practice because of an injured right ankle and it is unlikely he will play in Game 2. Ruutu was hurt when Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton kicked his skate out from underneath him early in the first period, with Ruutu missing the rest of the game.
"It could have been worse, I guess," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said of the two injuries. "So we'll move forward positively."
Neither Eaton nor Cooke was penalized.
Some Hurricanes players aren't happy with Cooke, an aggressive player who often stretches the rules to the limit.
"I think when a player doesn't see someone coming and you finish him, it's a difficult play," center Eric Staal said.
Cooke defended himself, saying the collision was accidental and was not the result of a dirty play.
"He cut across the middle and I was going to hit him," Cooke said. "He shot the puck and I looked to find my man and I wasn't even looking at him [Cole] when we clipped legs. I fell down just as hard as he did, and I didn't expect to hit him."
Cooke is uncertain whether he will be fined, but he did not take part in any disciplinary hearing that is usually held before a player is suspended.
Ruutu and Cole are two of the Hurricanes' most physical players and being without one or both would force Maurice to significantly rearrange his lines. Cole has been slumping, with no goals and three assists in 15 playoff games, while Ruutu has one goal and three assists.
"It would be tough to lose them," forward Chad LaRose said. "But you've got to move forward and have other people step in."
With Cole and Ruutu out, Maurice had Rod Brind'Amour centering a line with Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Samsonov and Staal between Ray Whitney and Scott Walker, with LaRose also playing some on that line.
Cole wasn't a big fan of Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena even before the series began. He broke two vertebrae during a hit from behind by the Penguins' Brooks Orpik on March 4, 2006, and didn't return until Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. The two fought the following season.
The Penguins don't believe Cooke's hit was nearly as flagrant as the knee-to-knee by Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin on Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar in Game 5 of the conference semifinals. Gonchar missed two games because of what appeared to be a serious injury caused when Ovechkin took a run at him.
Ovechkin was not suspended, although he was given a tripping penalty.
Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi, who often plays against an opponent's top line, was struck on a foot by a slap shot during an unusually long playoff-round practice Wednesday but apparently was not injured.
"You don't want to see that," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It's hard enough to stay healthy in the playoffs."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press