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Major loss for 'Canes: Cole out 6-8 weeks

PITTSBURGH -- Carolina left wing Erik Cole will miss at
least the rest of the regular season with a compression fracture in
a vertebra in his neck caused when he was driven headfirst into the
boards by Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik during a 7-5 Hurricanes victory
Saturday night.

Cole, tied for second on the team in scoring, will be out at
least 6-to-8 weeks -- a major loss for what currently is the team
with the NHL's best record. The Hurricanes have not ruled out Cole
returning for the playoffs, which begin in mid-April.

Cole had scored two goals for the second night in a row before
he was rammed into the dasher boards from behind by Orpik with
14:42 remaining as the Hurricanes were trying to hold off the
Penguins, who trailed 5-0 and 6-1 before rallying.

Cole was slammed into the boards near the right circle, along
the side of the ice where the bench areas are located, after he
appeared to lose his footing just before Orpik hit him.

Cole, who had hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his
career earlier in the game, was doubled over in pain while being
helped off the ice. He was taken to Pittsburgh's UPMC Presbyterian,
where he was examined and released Sunday morning before returning
to Raleigh to be examined by team orthopedic physician Douglas
Martini.

To replace Cole, the Hurricanes -- who lead the NHL with 88
points -- recalled forward Andrew Ladd from Lowell (AHL) for Monday
night's game at the New York Rangers.

After Cole was hurt, both Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette and
defenseman Bret Hedican criticized the officiating, with Hedican
saying the officials let the game get out of control. Earlier, the
game featured a fight between Pittsburgh's Andre Roy and Carolina's
Mike Commodore, the first fight involving a Carolina player since
Jan. 26.

Laviolette called on the NHL to discipline Orpik, a marginal
defender who has tried to develop a reputation for being a big
hitter during his two-plus NHL seasons.

"I'm sure the league will follow up on it," Laviolette said.
"I just think people who have a history of putting other players
in the league in vulnerable situations, there's no room for that.
There's no room for [risking] somebody's well-being."

The injury comes during a key stretch of the Hurricanes' season
in which they are playing five road games in eight nights and nine
of 10 games on the road. They are 3-0 since the Olympic break, with
the 27-year-old Cole getting four goals and two assists.

Cole's 60 points in 60 games are a career high and tie him with
Cory Stillman for second on the team, behind Eric Staal's 82
points.