With Nino Niederreiter’s lightning quick game-winning snipe in overtime of Game Seven against the Colorado Avalanche, the Minnesota Wild won a playoff series for the first time in 11 years while capturing the attention of the National Hockey League. Not only that, but it also ensured Wild grinder and key defensive forward Matt Cooke would be able to play at least one more game of the 2014 postseason.
When Minnesota hosts the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four on Friday night, Cooke will play his first game since Game Three of the Conference quarterfinals after being suspended seven games for a knee-on-knee hit to Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie. After last night’s win in Game Three, he’ll have at least two games to help his team make the Western Conference Finals for only the second time in franchise history.
Cooke has been called many things in his career–goon, thug, low-life, cheap-shot artist and Stanley Cup champion among others. Regardless of his past, the scrappy winger is still in the league, thanks in large part to his efforts to turn his game around. No longer the hired gangster of old, Cooke has transitioned into a top end defensive forward the past few years. He hits, he breaks up plays, he plays against the league’s top lines at even strength and plays a key role in Minnesota’s penalty kill. He also has a knack for scoring clutch goals, something Wild head coach Mike Yeo would love to have in place of Matt Moulson, who just can’t seem to find his niche in Minnesota’s postseason run.
Cooke makes this team better, especially when it comes to shutting down Chicago’s high octane offense. If you’ve seen Minnesota’s postgame videos from the team’s five postseason wins, it’s easy to see how excited Cooke is for his teammates and how determined he is to jump back in and make a difference. The Wild have had the depth to overcome his suspension, but there’s no question they’ll need Cooke at his very best if they’re going to do the unthinkable–oust the defending Stanley Cup champs.
It’s a long shot, but anything can happen in the chase for Lord Stanley’s Mug. That’s what this club is counting on. Stranger things have happened.