Stanley Cup playoffs: Goals by Cooke fuel comeback for Penguins


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OTTAWA -- There were several Penguins who might have been picked from a lineup as potential heroes before Game 6 of their first-round playoff game against the Ottawa Senators.

Matt Cooke, often described as an agitator, wouldn't have held a prominent place on that list.

"No, probably not," Cooke said Saturday night.

Yet there Cooke was, scoring twice in regulation as the Penguins rallied to clinch the series with a 4-3 overtime victory at Scotiabank Place.

Asked to go over the two scores, the Penguins' first and third goals, he smiled.

"I think I shot them a total of 6 feet, and the goalie was nowhere in sight for both of them," Cooke said. "There's your description."

Pretty or not, gritty or not, the goals were key as the Penguins came back from a 3-0 deficit to avoid losing two games in a row and facing a winner-take-all Game 7.

In the first five games of the series, the Penguins' third line -- Cooke on one wing, Jordan Staal in the middle and Tyler Kennedy, Ruslan Fedotenko or Pascal Dupuis on the other side -- had been outplayed by Ottawa's third line of Chris Kelly centering Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu.

Dupuis manned that post in Game 6 with Kennedy out because of an injury and Fedotenko a healthy scratch.

"We felt like we -- especially [Staal] and I for sure -- hadn't had our best game yet in the series," Cooke said. "We felt like we were going to have to contribute eventually to get the wing, and fortunately tonight we were able to."

Not that Cooke had been quiet in other areas. He had two hits Saturday night, giving him 23 for the six-game series.

But he wanted to do more after having an assist in Game 3 and a goal in Game 4 but entering Game 6 with a plus-minus rating of minus-5 and 10 penalty minutes -- both tied for worst on the team.

That, after he tied a career high with 15 goals in the regular season.

With the Penguins trailing, 3-0, and just 1:08 after the Senators' third goal, Cooke got the Penguins on the board when he swept the puck in from just above the goal mouth at 10:56 of the second period.

He pulled the Penguins into a 3-3 tie at 12:24 of the third period by backhanding a rebound of a Mark Eaton shot from close range past Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire.

"[Eaton] did a great job getting a puck on net, and, like I said, it was an empty net for me," Cooke said. "That rebound was there."

The Penguins don't know their second-round opponent, but one possibility is Boston, which has a 3-2 lead on Buffalo. If Washington, which has a 3-2 lead over Montreal, wins its series, the Penguins would play the Bruins if they move on.

That surely would bring a whole new wave of attention on Cooke for his hit on Boston's Marc Savard March 7. Savard sustained a concussion, is skating and could be close to returning.

Cooke wasn't penalized in the game or suspended by the NHL, but the hit and Savard's injury helped escalate the process of the league cracking down on hits to the head.

"People are still going to talk about it, and they're going to attack me personally, and that's their opinion," Cooke said. "I know the way that I play, and the physical element is something that I have to bring to stay in this league.

"Unfortunately, a guy got hurt, and you never want to see that."


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com .


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