Matt Cooke’s dirty hit on Fedor Tyutin: Poor excuses and time for the NHL to take a stand

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By now we all know what Matt Cooke’s M.O. is when he’s on the ice. He’s going to stir things up by being physical. He’s going to be in your face and chances are a scrum is going to develop thanks to his mere presence on the ice.

Last night against Columbus, Cooke wasn’t in anyone’s face but instead was burying himself between the numbers on Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin. Cooke received a five-minute major for charging Tyutin in the first period when he ran Tyutin from behind into the boards skating at full speed from a distance out to do it. (See video of the hit here on YouTube)

After the hit, Derick Brassard grabbed Cooke to fight him and the two threw down giving Cooke another five minutes for the scrap. Despite the dirty hit being both a textbook definition of charging and boarding, he got to stay in the game. When the interested parties were asked about the hit after the game, the battle lines were drawn in support of their own case as Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch gathered.

The Blue Jackets were understandably outraged.

“It was the worst hit I’ve ever had from behind,” said Tyutin, who did not miss a shift. “I wasn’t surprised not when you see (Cooke) in the highlights all the time for dirty hits.”

Jackets alternate captain R.J. Umberger also addressed the hit that occurred behind his team’s net at 14:42. “I thought it was blatant from behind. He had plenty of time to slow down.”

The Penguins, meanwhile, offered up some excuses that if offered up in a court case would lead to public outrage.

“(Tyutin) makes sure that he keeps his numbers (on the back of the jersey) toward him,” Bylsma said. “Matt Cooke did hit him there and sent him into the boards.”

Cooke also blamed the victim.

“It used to be you were responsible for yourself if you turned, but that’s not the way anymore,” Cooke told the Post-Gazette. “That call’s been called on us four or five times this year. It’s the same thing.

“He turns and looks and sees me coming. The other defenseman is slowing me down, so I’m not skating full speed at him.”

We don’t know who or what exactly Tyutin was looking at when he peered over his shoulder heading into the corner, but for Bylsma and Cooke to both blame Tyutin for getting obliterated from behind is ludicrous. Seeing a guy’s numbers when you’re going into the corner means you don’t hit the player from behind as he’s not looking. That’s never been OK to do and it’s certainly not legal to do in the NHL’s mind. To essentially say that Tyutin was asking for it is infuriating criminal logic and wrong.

If you think you’re alone in believing that Cooke’s intent was malicious, Jeremy Roenick sounded off in a big way this morning on XM Home Ice. Roenick said Cooke was “chickens–t” for hitting Tyutin like that and that he should be suspended for 20 games. When a guy’s game is able to push buttons like this both on and off the ice he’s either really good at his job or a problem child out of control. Count us in on the latter when it comes to Matt Cooke.

The NHL is meeting Cooke on Thursday over the phone to discuss a possible suspension for the hit and this time, after so many instances in the past when dealing with a problem player, and that’s exactly what Cooke is now after the Savard incident and after his knee-on-knee hit with Alex Ovechkin just on Sunday, a clear message has to be sent that constant malicious behavior cannot be tolerated anymore. In this case, giving Cooke a “lifetime achievement” type of suspension that sends the message that they won’t stand for intentionally evil hits like these are not part of the NHL would do a world of good.

Matt Cooke is already a pariah after his disgusting hit on Marc Savard last season that for all intents and purposes has ruined his career, making him an example for the rest of the league that carrying yourself without respect for one another on the ice would go over well in every city except Pittsburgh. Many Penguins fans blindly take up for Cooke’s case and have even fabricated their beliefs rallying behind Bylsma’s take on things, but even a nice guy like Bylsma who has to stick up for his players in the darkest of moments has to be wondering what possesses Cooke to consistently do things like this to put his team in danger.

Whether the league comes down hard on Cooke or not (and we’re suspecting they won’t if the past has taught us anything) we’re hoping the point that this brand of disgusting and reckless play can be put to an end. Playing physical and finishing your check is fine and a great part of hockey. When going out of your way to attempt to injure players to do so is when it all goes wrong. If the NHL wants to send that message and give Cooke a stiff punishment, we’re all for it. A fine or a slap on the wrist courtesy suspension isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Everything comes up Bruins on Saturday

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Honestly, Zdeno Chara signing another team-friendly contract would have been enough to make Saturday great for the Boston Bruins, alone. But the good times didn’t stop there.

Nope, the Bruins carried those positive vibes to the ice, as they pummeled the Florida Panthers by a score of 7-3. In managing that lopsided win, the Bruins became the second team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A clinched spot and a big win to go with that Chara extension … that’s it, right? Nope, more fun stuff came when you zoomed into the specifics of the game.

For one thing, Chara celebrated his extended stay with the Bruins by scoring the 200th goal of his splendid NHL career, and it was a pretty nice one. (You can watch that milestone tally in the video above this post’s headline.)

Chara also had an assist in that win, so quite an all-around Saturday for “The Big Z.”

He wasn’t the only Bruins player to have a memorable evening, as Noel Acciari scored a goal and also threw punches at a gatling-gun-rhythm in quite the fight with MacKenzie Weegar:

*Infomercial voice* But wait, there’s more …

The Maple Leafs only managed a point against the struggling Rangers on Saturday, so now the Bruins hold a seven-point edge for the Atlantic’s second seed, and home-ice advantage in that looming first-round series.

While Toronto would be a tough opponent – warts and all – it must be tantalizing for the Bruins to picture what they might be capable of. After all, the B’s are starting to get healthier following a season of injury headaches, and they’re heating up considering their four-game winning streak.

They’re also an impressive 28-7-3 at home this season, so home ice could be pretty significant.

Yes, life was good for the Bruins on Saturday, and they aim to carry that over to most nights in April, and beyond.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

March Madness is theme of Hurricanes’ latest win celebration

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When you think of March Madness, it won’t take long for the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels to come to your mind, especially if you’re living in the Carolinas. That apparently isn’t lost on the Carolina Hurricanes.

The team’s latest celebration evoked the NCAA’s beloved college basketball tournament, as the Hurricanes distanced themselves from the East’s bubble teams by thoroughly defeating (the very much West-bubble-dwelling) Minnesota Wild 5-1 on Saturday.

It was a great performance, with Teuvo Teravainen playing the role of MVP via one goal and two assists.

If Teravainen was the star, then call Trevor van Riemsdyk “The Human Hockey Highlight Reel,” as he showed some solid ups with his dunk during this fun celebration:

The Hurricanes are only going deeper into the “prop” stage of these win celebrations, and let me tell you: I’m all for it, and not just because it annoys the crustiest of crusty old hockey men.

Carolina now holds the first East wild-card spot with 89 points in 74 games played. The Montreal Canadiens are behind them in the second WC spot (87 points in 75 GP), making things only tenser for the struggling Blue Jackets, who remain out of the top eight with 84 points in 74 games played.

More and more, it looks like the Hurricanes will avoid another trip to hockey’s NIT (which would be the golf course, or maybe the hockey championship tournament overseas?), as their grip tightens on a playoff spot.

If things go really well, maybe the Hurricanes could celebrate a big win by cutting down the nets?

via Getty Images

Hey, they might as well file away ideas if they keep winning at this pace.

Jets dominate Predators, clinch playoff spot

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This is basically how the Winnipeg Jets probably dreamed of clinching a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With Kyle Connor collecting a hat trick, the Jets firmly took control of first place in the Central Division by drubbing the Nashville Predators 5-0 on Saturday. This outcome doesn’t just clinch that playoff berth, it also gives Winnipeg a four-point edge on Nashville.

The Jets also hold a game in hand, as they have seven games remaining, while the Predators only play six more.

The most spectacular of Connor’s three goals came when he shimmied around P.K. Subban (someone who regularly gets booed in Winnipeg), and then Pekka Rinne had no chance to stop the young winger:

The Predators find themselves vulnerable to beginning the first round on the road, as the Blues aren’t far behind them for the second seed in the Central.

Connor actually also had an assist in this game (3G, 1A), as he’s showing some fascinating chemistry with Kevin Hayes, who joined him in having a four-point game (1G, 3A). Considering how dangerous the Mark ScheifeleBlake Wheeler duo tends to be, and the luxury wingers Winnipeg also has in Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, a deadly combination of Hayes and Connor could be an absolute nightmare for opponents.

The Jets have been notably up-and-down at times this season, yet you could argue that it might be a matter of mild complacency. For the first time ever, this franchise is enjoying a glut where they can sort of mosey into the playoffs, so maybe they had been “struggling with prosperity” to some extent?

Well, as dangerous as it might be to supposedly “flip on the light switch,” the Jets are playing well enough that you might really start to hear some puns involving “taking off” and “getting fueled up” soon. That’s fair enough, if they fly as high most nights as they did on Saturday.

(Oh no, I’m doing it already, too.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

GM bashes Blue Jackets for not ‘playing like a team’

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Plenty of people are under pressure as the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in a panic-inducing spot: out of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as of this moment.

Yet, you have to believe that GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s seat is the hottest. After all, he’s the one who decided to not only keep Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, but also load up big-time during the trade deadline.

The thought was that keeping Bread and Bob would be “like getting trade deadline rentals” in the first place, so why not swing for the fences instead of giving up?

Well, instead of a deep run looking fully in view, the Blue Jackets instead are gazing at the standings, wondering if they might miss the postseason altogether. Since the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets have gone an unsettling 5-7-1, and Kekalainen told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that he doesn’t like what he’s seeing.

“We have to start playing like a team,” Kekalainen said (sub required). “Right now, we’re looking like a group of individuals who are pulling in different directions. We don’t look like a team.”

Is it John Tortorella’s fault that the Blue Jackets aren’t playing like a team?

That’s an argument for another day, but Kekalainen emphatically shot down any thought of Torts getting fired during the waning days of the 2018-19 season, telling Portzline that “if anybody can figure out how to turn this thing around, it is going to be [Tortorella].”

So, what might be the problem, then?

Well, unfortunately, those big holdovers aren’t delivering in a way that will please those worrying about Bobrovsky and Panarin leaving for nothing.

Panarin hasn’t been terrible, mind you, with a respectable eight points (though only one goal) in his last 13 games. And, as up-and-down as Bobrovsky’s been both this season and since the deadline, it’s not all Bob’s fault, as he’s dealing with some injury issues.

But those new additions really haven’t been able to take off. Matt Duchene seems to bring a hex with him everywhere he goes, and he’s only managed four points with Columbus. Most disturbingly, Pierre-Luc Dubois only has a single assist since the deadline.

It’s frustrating to linger on bad luck as a major reason for things going sideways, particularly for a team that’s been as frustrated in big games as the Blue Jackets have been. Still, it’s undeniable that bad bounces have been a factor.

Since the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets’ even-strength shooting percentage is just 5.23-percent, the second-worst number in the NHL (according to Natural Stat Trick). During an NHL season where teams are averaging close to three goals per game (2.82), the Blue Jackets have just 27 goals in 13 games, barely managing two per game (a bit less than 2.08).

As much as teams want to just will their way to goals and wins, sometimes it’s simply difficult to overcome cold streaks.

Perhaps the biggest mistake Kekalainen made was overrating his team/”group of individuals,” then? The underlying stats pointed to a Blue Jackets team that had mostly been middle-of-the-pack when it’s come to owning the puck and controlling high-danger chances, with a few key players like Panarin helping to make that key difference between victory and defeat.

Maybe making so many changes to the roster threw off delicate chemistry just enough to ruin that tightrope act? Could it be that Panarin actually … wanted to move on, to some extent, and feels a tad-bit dejected to have to play out the string?

Or, most likely, the bounces just haven’t been there, and such headaches have magnified issues, turning molehills into mountains?

Either way, it’s clear that things haven’t been coming easily for the Blue Jackets lately, and the pressure is getting to just about everyone — including the GM who put the team together.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.