PITTSBURGH -- It's been almost 39 months since Matt Cooke's brutal hit left Marc Savard with concussion symptoms that have yet to fully dissipate.
Cooke had a short answer when asked if the incident -- and resulting ire he's gotten from the Boston Bruins and their fans -- crossed his mind at all when it became apparent Cooke's Pittsburgh Penguins were going to play Boston in the Eastern Conference Final.
For Cooke, it's the second consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs series against a team -- and fan base -- that has expressed public indignation toward him. The forward's skate severed the Achilles tendon of Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson in February, and the teams faced each other in the conference semifinals.
This is the first playoff series against the Bruins since Cooke's hit on Savard as he crossed the ice near the blue line. It was a play that indirectly led to a modification of NHL rules. Cooke was not suspended for the hit, but it did help foster his reputation as one of the League's most disliked players by opposing fans.
"I can't control the people's opinions," Cooke said. "I've learned that fans have emotions toward certain things, and they're going to be attached to them. I need to go out and prepare to play to the best of my ability, and if I'm worried about that, it's going to affect me in negative way."
Cooke was suspended four times in a three-season span through the end of 2010-11, including for the first (and the Penguins' only) round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That caused Cooke to publicly vow to change the way he plays. He has not been suspended for any incident since.
"His game and his approach to the game and how he plays have changed significantly since then," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I'm not sure when Matt's going to ever get away from some of that reputation throughout the League, but he's put a significant amount of hockey in between his last suspension."
Cooke has been at his best during these playoffs, a member of Pittsburgh's third line that is often matched against the other team's top players. He has a plus-5 rating that ranks second among Penguins forwards and his 46 hits by far lead the team. Cooke carries a three-game assist streak into the series against the Bruins, which begins Saturday at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"He's been a big factor -- one of our best performers in the first two rounds playing his game," Bylsma said. "He's playing well positionally and physically.
"I'm not sure any city or any fans, it's not in their nature to forget, let it go, turn the page, any of that."