Wild winger Matt Cooke, who is expected to rejoin the lineup for Friday's Game 4 against Chicago, spoke to the media at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday for the first time since beginning his seven-day suspension. Cooke was punished for a knee-to-knee hit on Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the Wild's first-round series against the Avalanche.
Coach Mike Yeo said he expects Cooke to play in Game 4, but has not made any decisions about who will come out of the lineup or who Cooke's linemates will be. Cooke, whose suspension was the sixth of his career, said it was tough to watch the games from the stands. He expressed gratitude to his teammates for advancing to the second round, allowing him to jump back into the playoffs, and said he has been skating daily to stay ready.
Cooke would not address questions about why he chose not to appeal the suspension. He said he understands some people are going to believe he still is a dirty player, but he seemed resigned to that fact.
"People are entitled to their opinions,'' he said. "Everyone's going to have them. It's not my job to go out and change people's opinions. My job is to go out and play the way I can and be successful helping my teammates win. All I can do is go out and play the way I play, build the stats I've built over the last three years within my game, and the rest will take care of itself.''
Cooke spoke frequently about the work he put in over the past few years to remake his game. He said he is "in a good spot'' in terms of his commitment and ability to play a physical style without undue risk. As for whether the Barrie hit and suspension will make him gun-shy, he said it will be in his head, but he believes in his efforts to alter his approach and feels confident that will keep him on track.
In addition to his physical presence, Cooke thinks the Wild can benefit from his ability to communicate with teammates during the game, helping the team to maintain an even keel, and his playoff experience. He's also eager to help on the penalty kill.
Yeo said Cooke will play a specific role for the Wild as a strong-checking forward who is difficult to play against. He urged Cooke to play with confidence and said he would talk to him to make sure he does not feel hesitant.
"The last several years, he's been able to play the physical type of game, but play it honest and hard without going over the line,'' Yeo said. "That's what we're going to need from him again.''
Yeo also said something that should quell the concerns about Ryan Suter's health. Suter appeared to injure his left shoulder or arm in a collision with Marian Hossa in Tuesday's Game 3, but he returned to the game. Wednesday, Yeo noted that although some players came to the rink for treatment on the off day, Suter was not among them.
That's all the news from a relatively quiet Xcel today. Russo will return tomorrow.