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Wild face likelihood of playing without Cooke

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will likely be without a key member of their lineup Thursday when they host the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series.

Wild forward Matt Cooke is facing a hearing in New York on Wednesday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for a knee-on-knee hit on Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 on Monday.

Cooke has a history of being disciplined by the League, having been suspended five times since 2004. But the last time he was punished was March 2011 for an elbow to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Signed by the Wild last summer as a free agent after five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cooke did not have a major penalty in 82 games this season. He's also developed into a leader in the Wild locker room as one of two players on the Minnesota roster with his name on the Stanley Cup.

"He's an important player to our team, there's no question," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "There's a reason why he was brought here and physicality is only a very small part of it. It's his leadership, his experience, his role as a penalty-killer and as a checking forward. Certainly, it's a loss for our lineup."

Cooke's line has been charged with shadowing many of the NHL's top lines this season. On Monday, he and rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine were assigned the role of defending against Colorado's explosive line of Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon, which had combined for 17 points in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3, the Wild shut out that line, and the rest of the Avalanche, in a 1-0 overtime win that drew Minnesota to within 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.

"We've got a lot of young kids on this team, and he's done a real good job helping these kids become pros and helping them to ride the ups and downs of the season," Yeo said. "Certainly, with the adversity we faced in Game 1 and how things went in Game 2, he was a guy that helped us reset, refocus and regroup for [Game 3]."

Yeo said he didn't plan on moving Haula or Fontaine off the third line. The options to replace Cooke at left wing range from moving Nino Niederreiter up from the fourth line to re-inserting center Kyle Brodziak into the lineup after he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his Wild career in Game 3. If it's Brodziak, Haula would likely move from center to wing. Stephane Veilleux also fits the mold of a fast, checking-line veteran who could slot in on the left side.

"We have a few ideas, but we'll hammer that out [Wednesday]," Yeo said.

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