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Wild’s Cooke suspended for seven games; Niederreiter to replace him at left wing

By Brian Murphy

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The NHL on Wednesday suspended Wild left wing Matt Cooke for seven games for his knee-to-knee hit on Colorado's Tyson Barrie in Monday's Game 3 of their playoff series.

Barrie suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament and will be sidelined for the next four to six weeks.

"Obviously you can't find another Matt Cooke," said captain Mikko Koivu. "If he's out, we'll miss him, but at the same time, he's going to support us, we'll support him and we'll move on."

Koivu was asked to access his teammate's actions.

"To be honest, I didn't see the play clearly, so I don't want to comment too much," he said. "But everything happens fast. We've seen those hits before. We will see them in the future. No one's trying to do that, but it's hockey. It happens very fast and you're trying to be physical. But on that certain hit, I didn't see it on the ice or on tape either."

Avs defenseman Erik Johnson, however, spared no words when asked about Cooke's hit.

"I don't even know if there's a place for him in this game. It's disgusting what he's done to guys' careers," Johnson said.

Cooke was penalized two minutes for kneeing after colliding with Barrie at the Avalanche blue line early in the second period.

If the entire suspension is not served over the course of the playoffs, the remaining games will be served at the beginning of next season, the NHL's department of player safety announced.

Once one of the NHL's most notorious agitators, Cooke has a long history of illegal hits and has been suspended five times in his career but not since 2011, when he vowed to reform after drawing the ire of his own general manager, Pittsburgh's Ray Shero, for an elbow to the head of Cretin-Derham Hall graduate Ryan McDonagh in a game against the New York Rangers.

Cooke's absence forces Yeo to juggle Minnesota's primary checking line just when it had found an answer for Colorado's dynamic scoring trio in Game 3.

Nino Niederreiter will replace Cooke on the left wing with Justin Fontaine and center Erik Haula. Cooke and that pair iced red-hot Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, who combined for 17 points in the Avs' Game 1 and 2 victories.

Barrie's 13 goals were the most by an Avs defenseman since 2006-07. His absence on the blue line and Colorado's power play is significant. Coach Patrick Roy said Ryan Wilson would step into the breach.

From January 2009 to March 2011, Cooke was suspended four times for a total of 25 games.

He was banished for the final 10 regular-season games of 2010-11 and a seven-game first-round playoff series -- his longest suspension -- for elbowing McDonagh in the head. But the hit that made the biggest impact was one for which he wasn't punished.

In March 2010, Cooke leveled Boston's Marc Savard with a blindside hit that drew no discipline but led the NHL to adopt a new rule that specifically targets head shots on defenseless players.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.