Game of the Week: Matt Cooke’s ugly hit changes game, Rangers win 5-2 after wild third period

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When it comes to suspension debates, we usually discuss shades of gray rather than black-and-white matters. Yet when it comes to Matt Cooke’s elbow on Ryan McDonagh, it shouldn’t be a matter of whether or not the repeat offender should be suspended. The question should instead be: “For how long?”

Eddie Olczyk said that Cooke might receive an eight-game suspension, while many are wondering if it could be in the double digits. Want isn’t up to much debate is the idea that Mario Lemieux might look a little silly if he doesn’t supplement the league’s decision with an in-house punishment as well.

This was a tightly fought, but mostly in-control 1-1 game before Cooke’s unnecessary elbow on McDonagh. After that, the game spiraled into a sloppy, hateful mess that resulted in a huge win for the New York Rangers. The Pittsburgh Penguins controlled most of the play, but the resulting power plays from an undisciplined play by Cooke and a high stick by Matt Niskanen ultimately doomed them.

NY Rangers 5, Pittsburgh 2

Cooke received a five-minute elbowing major and a 10-minute game misconduct for the hit, putting his team in a terrible position during the third period. At first, it looked like the Rangers were going to let that opportunity slip through their fingers though, as Chris Kunitz scored an impressive shorthanded goal to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

The Rangers couldn’t really make much of a difference on that lengthy single man advantage, but a reckless Niskanen double minor for high-sticking gave New York a 5-on-3 power play. Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan scored power-play goals nine seconds apart to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead thanks to those mistakes, with things only going downhill for Pittsburgh from that point.

McDonagh earned a measure of revenge for the Cooke elbow by setting up a Derek Stepan goal after getting the puck right as he left the penalty box to make it 4-2. Brandon Dubinsky ended up making it 5-2 with an empty net goal, representing a wild flurry that included four unanswered goals.

Both Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan scored a goal and two assists while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 38 out of 40 shots to earn a significant win for the Rangers. This marks Lundqvist’s 31st win of the 2010-11 season. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on 26 shots in this game, but few will blame Fleury when Cooke is the obvious goat.

How this game affects the Rangers and Penguins:

The Rangers didn’t play their best all-around game this afternoon, but they earned an important two points to strengthen their hold on seventh place. With 82 points in 73 games played, they have a slim lead over the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres (78 points in 71 GP) and a healthy six point margin in front of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes (76 points in 72 GP).

This will be a tough loss for the Penguins to accept, as they remain in fourth place with 90 points in 72 games played. They only hold a one-point lead over the fifth place Tampa Bay Lightning, with both teams having 10 games left this season.

The Rangers ultimately passed a tough test today, even if they didn’t do it with flying colors. The NHL faces a big test in their own right, as they have a chance to send a message with their decision regarding Cooke. The league hasn’t exactly been on the honor roll when it comes to those choices in the past, but we’ll let you know what ends up happening (if anything).

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off Simmonds’ elbow, but Sheary’s out for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Report: U.S. men’s hockey players may join boycott with women’s team

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Octagon Hockey agent Allan Walsh announced that there’s “word circulating” that potential members of the men’s U.S. hockey team might join the women’s national team in a boycott of the world championships with USA Hockey.

HNIC’s Cassie Campbell reports that she discussed as much with men’s players during the last few weeks about this subject, backing up Walsh.

This update comes on the heels of reports that USA Hockey has been struggling to find players to replace those who are boycotting the world championships. (Puck Daddy provides deep background on that subject.)

The NHLPA has already spoken out in support of the boycott earlier this week. The U.S. women’s national hockey team also released the following statement:

Fight video: Flyers’ Manning vs. Penguins’ Gaunce

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Breaking: the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers don’t like each other.

The stakes might be higher for the Penguins than the Flyers – aside from those who still believe Philly has a shot at a playoff run – their rivalry rarely subsides.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Sunday featured at least one fight, with Cameron Gaunce squaring off against Brandon Manning in a pretty spirited bout.

Manning isn’t shy about fighting, by the way; this was his seventh bout of the season, according to Hockey Fights.

Higher on the radar for the Penguins is the situation for Conor Sheary, who has been absent from the ice since about midway through the first period. PHT will keep an eye out for updates on what could be yet another injury for the health-challenged Pens.