Apr 21, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Colorado Avalanche forward Cody McLeod (55) talks with Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke (24) during the first period in game three of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

What Should Be Expected Of Matt Cooke Tonight?

“I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change.”

That was Matt Cooke, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a day after delivering an elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh in 2011, earning a 17-game suspension.

Tonight, Cooke returns to the Minnesota Wild lineup for Game 4 against the Chicago Blackhawks after serving a seven-game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit on Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie.

Following the McDonagh hit, Cooke vowed he would be a changed man on the ice, though it certainly wasn’t easy to believe the thought at first.

After all, the McDonagh incident was Cooke’s fifth career suspension, and it came less than a month after a four-game ban for hitting Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin from behind. Fans of the Boston Bruins would also likely come after me with torches and pitchforks if I didn’t mention the infamous open-ice headshot on Marc Savard, for which Cooke wasn’t punished, but it set in motion the creation of Rule 48 governing hits to the head.

For a time, signs were positive. 2013-14 marked Cooke’s third straight season with fewer than 100 penalty minutes, though his 28 points were the lowest 82-game season total since the 2007-08 season.

However, questions started to surface again once Cooke sliced Erik Karlsson‘s Achilles tendon with his skate blade in the 2012-13 season. While I’m not sure it was enough to warrant the launch of CSI: Ottawa, it was enough to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of skeptics.

The knee-on-knee hit on Barrie only further fuelled the fire surrounding Cooke’s sincerity about being a different player, with renewed calls from people in the hockey community to get Cooke out of the game.

At his best, Cooke can be a physical veteran who provides an added penalty-killing presence for the Wild, never a bad thing considering what Chicago’s power-play can do.

He can also help his young linemates, Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine, to calm any nerves they may have, even though Haula has been solid in this series.

However, he must be effective in the right ways to ensure he takes advantage of what may be his last shot.

Tags: Central Division Matt Cooke Minnesota Wild NHL

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