Matt Cooke said he nearly developed an ulcer watching his team in the playoffs during his seven-game suspension.
Friday, the Wild winger expects to resume a more familiar role of causing that kind of anxiety.
The Wild’s Game 3 victory over Chicago on Tuesday marked the end of Cooke’s punishment for a knee-to-knee hit on Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie in the playoffs’ first round. He is eligible to return to the lineup Friday for Game 4 of the team’s second-round series against the Blackhawks. As the Wild enjoyed an off day Wednesday, Cooke skated at Xcel Energy Center, and coach Mike Yeo said he expects to reinsert Cooke into the lineup Friday as the Wild seeks to even the series at two games each.
The hit, and the suspension, marred Cooke’s three-year quest to rehabilitate his image and clean up his play. Barrie sustained a knee injury and sat out the rest of the series as the Avalanche fell to the Wild in seven games, while Cooke was suspended by the NHL for the sixth time in his career.
Cooke acknowledged that some people will view the incident as proof he has not changed. While he can’t alter that, he said, he trusts that the adjustments he has made in recent years will help him move past his latest transgression.
“People are entitled to their opinions,’’ said Cooke, who registered one assist and six penalty minutes in three playoff games before the suspension. “It’s not my job to go out and change peoples’ opinions. It’s my job to go out and play the way I can and be successful, helping my teammates win.
“Although this one situation happened, I still believe I’m in a good spot as far as the way I approach the game, to go out and play a physical style without being riskful. [The Barrie hit] is going to be in my head, but I’m a firm believer in the work I’ve put in to change my approach to the game to allow me to go out and have success.’’
Yeo said he has not decided who will come out of the Wild lineup to make room for Cooke, nor has he settled on line combinations. Cooke hopes to help the Wild on the penalty kill and use his experience and communication skills to keep the team’s emotions balanced amid the tension and tumult of the playoffs.
Though Yeo knows the hit and suspension could create some hesitation in Cooke’s game, he urged Cooke to concentrate on the tough yet legal style he used to good effect throughout the regular season. He is counting on him to play a specific role as a strong-checking forward who can go to the net and create offense while making things difficult for opponents.
“He’s got to play his game, and he’s got to play it with confidence,’’ Yeo said. “For the last several years, we’ve talked about how he’s changed. And for the most part, before [the Barrie hit], he had not had a charging or a boarding or anything like that. He’s been able to hit clean, and I’m sure he’ll be able to do the same thing.’’
Cooke thanked the Wild organization for standing by him throughout the suspension, saying it was “rewarding’’ to know it did not believe he had bad intentions. He was particularly grateful to his teammates for advancing to the second round, allowing him the opportunity to get back into these playoffs.
“The team has played great, but it’s tough to sit and watch,’’ he said. “I pride myself on being a guy who performs and has a game built for the playoffs.
“It’s the perfect scenario. Having to be up on this podium a week ago and not getting a chance to play again in the playoffs would have been a really hard thing for me.’’