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).