Cooke becomes the villain once again

PITTSBURGH -- Let’s be clear about one thing. If any player in the NHL rams another player into the end boards from behind like Matt Cooke did to Adam McQuaid early in the second period Saturday night, it’s a penalty.

Or it should be.

But maybe the better question is whether the fact Cooke, a player with a long history of dangerous plays who has worked mightily to rehabilitate his game and his image in the past two years, paid a heavier price for the hit than someone else.

Cooke was given a five-minute major for hitting from behind and a game misconduct 1:32 into the second period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday. The Bruins did not score on what was a three-minute power play thanks to a Chris Kelly minor at the same time, but it did raise the emotional temperature of an already testy game.

McQuaid missed some shifts in the period but did return.

The issue of Cooke’s fate was further clouded late in the period when Brad Marchand, another player with a reputation for borderline play, rammed James Neal from behind near the Pittsburgh bench but received only a minor penalty.

"I mean, I don’t see the difference, really. Neal doesn’t go directly into the boards I don’t think, I don’t think it’s quite as straight-on as Cookie’s, but McQuaid was able to get up pretty quick, I thought," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after the Bruins had defeated Pittsburgh 3-0.

Crosby was quick to point out that he didn’t think the Cooke hit was a good one.

"I don’t think it was a great hit, don’t get me wrong, he’s got his back turned, it’s a board (boarding call)," he said.

Crosby would not venture down the road of whether Cooke’s reputation factored into the game misconduct.

"That I don’t want to say that, to be honest with you," Crosby said. "We all know the history with Cookie and it’s going to be looked at and scrutinized a lot more because it’s him, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a penalty because it’s Cookie. I think if it’s anyone it’s a penalty. The fact that it’s a match, though, I think that’s kind of up for debate."

Cooke was not available to comment after the game but head coach Dan Bylsma made no excuses either.

"It’s clearly a hit right through the numbers," Bylsma said. "I’m not sure I think it warranted a five minute penalty but he did come right behind the guy."

What was interesting in the aftermath was that the Bruins, for the most part, chose to take the high road when asked about the hit. Given the history with Cooke -- his blindside hit on Marc Savard in 2010 was a factor in Savard’s career being cut short -- one might have expected something different.

"I saw it but I’m not going to comment," said Nathan Horton, who scored the Bruins’ third goal of the night. "I don’t know if it was anything dirty. He hasn’t been a dirty player for a long time now and I’m not sure if he was trying to do that. I think Quaider’s OK, so that’s all I’ll say about it."

Defenseman Andrew Ference was suspended for one game in the first round for a blow to the head of Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski. He was likewise diplomatic in discussing the Cooke hit Saturday.

"It’s really a difficult thing to give too much of an opinion, especially at this time of the year," Ference said. "The refs have a tough enough job and for us to offer our opinions whether what they called or against what they called, I think it’s unfair of us to dig our nose into their business. It’s not our play to comment on it."