The Penguins had nine regular players out of the lineup in their showdown with the Anaheim Ducks, including team captain Sidney Crosby
. With the team slipping in the standings, someone needed to step up in their absence. That someone was Matt Cooke
Cooke tallied his first two-goal game as a Penguin and helped the team earn a much needed 3-1 victory.
“To be counted on offensively is a real treat for me,” Cooke said. “I was an offensive player in junior and there’s not always room for everybody to be offensive guys so I’ve tried to find a role for myself to keep myself in the league.”
He’s such a warrior. It’s nice to see a player like Cookie get rewarded, scoring some important goals. - Michel Therrien
“He’s such a warrior,” head coach Michel Therrien said. “It’s nice to see a player like Cookie get rewarded, scoring some important goals.”
Therrien elevated Cooke to Pittsburgh’s top line with Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
- Malkin and Petr Sykora in Friday’s game. Since then the gritty forward has responded with four points, including three goals in the past three games, in five contests.
“It’s been Sid and Geno the last couple of games and tonight it’s Geno and Sykkie,” Cooke said. “They’re all great players. Given the opportunity I like to think that I can help out and chip in and I’m just going to enjoy it right now.”
Despite playing with world class talent like Crosby, Malkin and Sykora, Cooke insists that he hasn’t changed his game. He still plays physical and battles along the boards.
“The biggest thing I can bring for them is to make sure I’m strong for them in the corners and play well defensively," Cooke said. "The rest will take care of itself. I forecheck hard and turn over pucks. They’re the ones getting the pucks and are going to be the ones making plays. I just get open and they’re so good that they’ll find me.”
Cooke grabbed a puck behind the Ducks net and buried a sweeping wrap-around shot past Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere with 20 seconds left in the first period. Cooke struck again just 23 seconds into the second frame. A Ryan Whitney shot from the point hit Cooke in the high slot. The Belleville, Ontario native re-collected the puck and threw a backhander into the cage.
“My second one, I got lucky,” Cooke said. “I tried to tip it. It stayed with me. (Giguere) was just out of position.”
To be counted on offensively is a real treat for me ... Given the opportunity I like to think that I can help out and chip in and I’m just going to enjoy it right now. - Matt Cooke
Cooke had a few opportunities to tally his first career hat trick. Cooke nearly buried a one-timer on a Penguins’ power play but Giguere got his pad on the shot.
“I had a great opportunity on the power play in the second period,” Cooke said. “I just didn’t get it high enough. He made a great save on it.”
In the game's closing seconds Sykora had an easy shot into an empty net to seal the game but opted to feed a pass to Cooke. However, Cooke couldn’t get good wood on the shot.
“Geno and Sykkie said they were going to try and get it to me,” Cooke said. “Sykkie had a wide-open net and he could have just scored but unfortunately I got a stick on it and just put too much angle.”
“I know the guys were pushing for him at the end to score his hat trick,” Therrien said. “But you could tell the guys on the bench and the guys on the ice tried to feed the puck at the open net.”
Cooke was happy to contribute with a couple of goals but he was most pleased with getting a much needed win for the Penguins. The win lifts Pittsburgh into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. The Penguins will be fighting for the remainder of the season to earn a postseason berth.
“This is a young resilient group,” Cooke said. “We haven’t accepted losing and every guy in this room hates it. It seems like we’ve already started the most important games of the season and I think the biggest thing is to have that level of desperation. We can’t take time to relax. We have to play desperate, and that’s going to teach us a lesson, even towards the playoffs.”