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Southeast: Vinny dishes on Cooke, team's fortunes

by Mike G. Morreale
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier spoke candidly this week on various topics, ranging from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke to the current state of his hockey club, as a guest on NHL Live! on Wednesday.

Lecavalier was forced to undergo shoulder surgery in 2008 after taking a hit from Cooke, who played for Washington during the 2007-08 season. Cooke's most recent hit on Boston's Marc Savard on March 7 left the Bruins' playmaker concussed and likely out for the remainder of the season. It was a hit that didn't sit well with Lecavalier.
"I've seen the hit numerous times and I just know that a player like Matt Cooke knew exactly what he was doing, coming in with his shoulder," Lecavalier said. "He had plenty of time to move out of the way, but that's the type of player he is.

"You would think players would respect other players more than that. I feel that's why we should eliminate those hits and have more game-suspensions when something like that happens."

Heading into the weekend, Lecavalier has 6 goals and 7 points in nine games since the Olympic break, but his team is 2-6-1 in that span and is 11th in the Eastern Conference -- six points behind eighth-place Boston. He's hoping for a quick turnaround in order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three seasons.

"We have to win at least nine out of our last 12 to get in there, I feel," Lecavalier said. "We need to play the same way we've been because the results will come. Our work ethic is there. We're playing with character and we're in playoff mode. We just have to start seeing those results by winning some games."

Ovi's return -- Washington captain Alex Ovechkin returns from his two-game suspension Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals continue their pursuit of the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Ovechkin, who served his second suspension of the season last week for his hit from behind on Chicago's Brian Campbell on March 14, is looking forward to returning to the lineup. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of his teammates are, as well.

"I'm really disappointed for Alex," Boudreau told reporters this week. "You try to look at this from an objective view and I can see where, if you're not a Washington fan or a part of Washington, you're sitting there, 'Yeah suspend him, suspend him.' If you're looking at it from our point of view, people keep calling it a reckless hit and to me it was a push from behind that, if he had have gone straight, he would have gone on the ice."

Hockey analyst and former player Jeremy Roenick defended Ovechkin on TSN.

"There are a lot of head hunters and guys who go out just to try and hurt people in the National Hockey League and we've got to take those guys out, and talk about those guys just as much," Roenick said. "(Ovechkin) plays the game extremely hard, and sometimes he plays it dirty, but that's the way he plays and I don't think you're going to change him."

Ovechkin previously had been suspended two games following a knee-on-knee collision with Carolina's Tim Gleason on Nov. 30.

Now that Ovechkin is back in the lineup, it's time for the Capitals to ratchet it up a notch down the stretch.

"I think our goal is to get better and to really tune into our system and almost try to perfect it," Capitals defenseman Mike Green told "If we play our game, then we'll win most nights. For some guys who played Olympics and didn't get that break, maybe they might need some rest prior to playoffs. But most importantly, we just need to keep our chemistry going and get better because we know how hard it is to win in playoffs."

Matthias makes impression -- It appears as though Florida Panthers center Shawn Matthias finally is beginning to hit his stride as an NHL regular.

He's certainly received the approval of head coach Peter DeBoer in the form of added ice time while exhibiting a physical side to his game that wasn't so obvious earlier this season.

"This is what the coaches want me to do, and I'm taking pride in my role," Matthias told the Miami Herald. "Last year and earlier this year I was timid with the puck. I'm starting to make those plays that helped me get to this level. I'm not worried about making mistakes anymore. If I do, I just work hard the next time out."

Matthias, who has played a third-line role with Gregory Campbell and Radek Dvorak, has 6 goals, 11 points and over nine minutes of ice time per game through 42 contests this season. Matthias, who has gone back and forth between AHL Rochester and the Panthers since making his NHL debut as an emergency call-up in early 2007, has played 21 straight games since his last recall, Jan. 24.

By all accounts and barring injury, he'll finish the season with the Panthers, as well.

"You can see he's getting it,'' Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard said. "The year I spent in the minors was during the lockout so there was none of that up-and-down stuff. But from what I've seen, the guys who get moved up and down come in and don't want to make mistakes. You can see now that he's comfortable and playing with confidence. That takes time. He scored the goal, but he's battling, he's making things happen.''

Under review -- Atlanta Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution not to expect any coaching changes anytime soon.

Waddell said he'll evaluate his entire coaching staff and organization at the conclusion of the 2009-10 campaign. He's hoping that evaluation comes after a few rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Obviously, if we don't get to where we want to be, all positions need to be evaluated," Waddell told Vivlamore. "It's part of the business. We all want to win and have success and make the playoffs, and if we don't reach our goals that we feel were attainable, you have to look at every avenue in the organization."

The Thrashers were eighth in the Eastern Conference only two weeks ago before a six-game losing streak dropped them to 11th. Still, a recent two-game winning streak has moved them into ninth -- three points behind eighth-seeded Boston -- heading into the weekend.

Waddell remains confident his club can secure a playoff spot, especially since the team plays six of its final 12 games at Philips Arena. The loss of rookie Evander Kane (fractured foot) for three weeks didn't help matters, and on top of that defenseman Zach Bogosian is dealing with a nagging right thumb injury that sidelined him one game this week.

"I always believe you take the positive approach," Waddell said. "Am I disappointed we went through this stretch? Absolutely. At the end of the year we will break down the months and weeks (of the season). We had a couple other five-game losing streaks. Obviously, this is going to gain all the attention because when it happened."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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