PITTSBURGH -- Matt Cooke has tried to reform his reckless ways. He really has. The same goes for Raffi Torres.
But when you have the reputations of these repeat offenders, any slip up will be substantially magnified.
So there was Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins right smack in the middle of another controversial hit on Saturday night, two weeks after Torres was suspended for the remainder of the San Jose Sharks' second-round series for a headshot on Los Angeles Kings centre Jarret Stoll.
Cooke's latest on-ice crime came early in the second period of the Penguins' 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in the East final series opener. He hit Bruins defenceman Adam McQuaid from behind right on his sweater No. 54 into the end boards.
McQuaid's head did not hit the glass. He wasn't hurt. Sometimes this sort of infraction is only a two-minute boarding penalty. But this was Matt Cooke. So he was given a five-minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct.
The Bruins did not score on the subsequent three-minute power play (Boston's Chris Kelly was nailed for a two-minute roughing penalty for going after Cooke), but the questionable hit from Cooke certainly injected some emotion into the game in the wrong way for the Penguins.
The Bruins' little-ball-of-hate, Brad Marchand, added to the heightened passion in the series opener with a foolish hit of his own late in the second period. He put a lick on Pittsburgh's James Neal from the side in front of the Penguins bench. But that nasty hit was deemed a two-minute boarding penalty.
Next thing you know, the Penguins clearly were knocked off their game. Emotions ran too high for the home team. Evgeni Malkin fought Boston's Patrice Bergeron.
Five-foot-11, 200-pound Sidney Crosby, who took an interference penalty in the first period and a slashing minor late in the game, jostled with 6-foot-9, 255-pound Boston captain Zdeno Chara.
"It's tough," Crosby said afterwards. "They were letting a lot go out there.
"It's something you want to stay away from."
Malkin's fight hurt Penguins
The Malkin fighting major especially hurt the Penguins. Sure he took the Bruins best penalty killer off the ice in Bergeron. But at that point Pittsburgh was down by a goal and still had a 90-second power play to begin the third period. It would have been better for the Penguins in that man-advantage situation with Malkin on the ice.
"I don't think the situation at the end of the second period was in our favour," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We had a power play. We had a power play coming out of the third period. We got two of our power-play guys off the ice [Chris Kunitz was the other] with those altercations."
Meanwhile, the NHL will review Cooke's hit from behind and it will no doubt be debated over the next 48 hours before Game 2 on Monday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET) whether he deserves a suspension.
The spotlight certainly has found Cooke this spring because the Penguins have played against the Ottawa Senators and Bruins, two teams Cooke has a history with.
But long before Cooke's skate blade cut through the Achilles tendon of Senators star defenceman Erik Karlsson three months ago, Cooke put a blindside hit on Boston's Marc Savard in March 2010. That hit still resonates in Boston today because Savard still is on the sidelines after he suffered a second concussion in 2010-11.
Cooke's bad history
That season didn't get any better for Cooke. He was suspended four games for a hit from behind on Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin on Feb 9, 2011.
Then on March 21, 2011, Cooke was banished for the final 10 games of the regular season as well as the first round of the playoffs for planting an elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero took the high ground of Cooke's latest setback and vowed to help Cooke change his ways. For the most part, Cooke has been better. He had a career-low 44 penalty minutes in a full 82-game schedule in 2011-12. He was well behaved this past regular season.
In fact, his major penalty on Saturday was his only five-minute penalty of any kind since his elbow to McDonangh's head. Still, even if you're a member of the Penguins, you could not justify what Cooke did.
"Clearly it's a hit right through the numbers," said Bylsma, whose team now trails in a series for the first time this spring.
"I don't think it was a rough hit. I think he was going into the boards, it was right [between] the numbers. I'm not sure I thought it warranted a five-minute penalty. But, you know, he did come right behind the guy ... there you have it."
It was Matt Cooke, after all.
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