Matt Cooke did not think he deserved a suspension for his hit from behind on Boston Bruins defenceman Adam McQuaid. He's grateful NHL vice-president and director of player safety Brendan Shanahan agreed.
"It's a great relief, because I want to be on the ice helping my team not sitting in this dressing room worrying about winning or losing," the Pittsburgh Penguins winger said after Shanahan decided the major penalty and game misconduct Cooke received following the hit early in the second period of Saturday's opening game of the Eastern Conference final were sufficient.
"I've been in that situation before and it's no fun," said Cooke, who has a history of suspensions for controversial hits. "I'm just thankful I can go out [Monday] night and help my team."
There was also no further punishment for another hit from behind in Boston's 3-0 win over the Penguins, this one by Bruins winger Brad Marchand on Penguins forward James Neal. Marchand received a minor penalty for driving Neal face-first into the boards at the players' bench. Neither McQuaid nor Neal was injured.
As a serial offender – a blind-side hit in March of 2010 concussed Bruins centre Marc Savard, who still cannot play and resulted in a suspension for the rest of the season – Cooke could have received a lengthy suspension. But he thought Shanahan looked just at the play and not his reputation.
"I don't believe in that at all," Cooke said. "I think the referees are trying to do their best job to call the game. Initially, maybe, it looked like [McQuaid] was hurt but he played a shift after. I think that probably affected their decision as well."
Cooke said he deserved a penalty but not a major and a game misconduct. The initial reaction from the Bruins was similar, at least as far as a potential suspension was concerned. Bruins head coach Claude Julien said in a television interview during the game there is an onus on the player receiving the hit to protect himself. He still felt that way a day later.
"I'm certainly not going to change my mind because it happened to one of our players," Julien said. "I've always said players have to not put themselves in a vulnerable position.
"As far as the Cooke situation, I think the referees have to call that, when you see a player at the boards and the numbers are showing. I think they have to call it. I'll be honest, I don't have issues with [Cooke] not being suspended because I'm not sure it's a suspendable offence."
Cooke made the hit early in the second period when the puck was dumped into the Boston zone and he was going in to fore-check. McQuaid went to the puck at the boards behind the net while his partner, Torey Krug, tried to tie up Cooke. Cooke broke free and went to McQuaid, who had turned his back to Cooke and was facing the boards. The hit from behind caught McQuaid on the numbers of his sweater and he went face-first into the boards.
McQuaid lay on the ice for a few moments and was helped to his feet. But he was able to return to the game.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma emphasized that Cooke never hit McQuaid on the head with his check, just on the numbers. He also said Marchand's hit was worse because Neal was a little farther from the boards than McQuaid and could easily have fallen and then had his head driven into the boards.
Bylsma said he did not hear anything from the league about either hit.
"I did not get an explanation on either hit. I don't know why," he said. "I think the Neal hit – the distance from the boards is probably a more dangerous situation for James in that he catches the dasher [board] on the top of his helmet and not a few inches lower, which would have been his forehead or eye level."
McQuaid did not have much to say about the hit, although he thought he was "maybe a little bit in shock," after the hit.
"Well, ultimately it's the refs' call. They call it as they saw it so we just kind of move on and get ready for next game."