ST. PAUL, Minn. — A day after the Minnesota Wild’s 1-0 overtime win in Game 3, head coach Mike Yeo was left to answer more questions about the status of forward Matt Cooke than the dramatic performance that helped Minnesota draw to within 2-1 in its first-round playoff series with the Colorado Avalanche.
Cooke, the Wild forward who played a key role in shutting down Colorado’s top line Monday night, is set for a hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety and facing a likely suspension for kneeing Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie.
Barrie will miss four to six weeks with a medial collateral ligament sprain of his left knee, according to Colorado coach Patrick Roy. The league announced Cooke will have an in-person hearing tomorrow at the league’s New York office.
"Obviously things you don’t want to have happen," Yeo said. "I think we all want to play good, physical, intense hockey. At the same time, I know that they want to do the same to us. Neither side wants to see anyone get hurt. Obviously on our part, we don’t want to see one of our players get suspended. Obviously not going to be sitting here and saying we’re in a great mood about any of that."
In the second period of Minnesota’s win Monday night, Cooke approached Barrie at the blue line of Colorado’s defensive zone. Barrie sent a pass up the ice and tried to move away from a check from Cooke, who reached out and delivered a knee-on-knee hit on Barrie.
Cooke was given a minor penalty for kneeing. Barrie was helped off the ice and never returned.
"I think the exact same thing I was thinking yesterday after the game," Roy said. "I think it was, to me, the play of the game. Like I said, I mean, losing our best offensive defenseman, we thought that could’ve been a five-minute major and certainly could’ve broken their momentum."
Roy said Ryan Wilson, who played in just 28 games this season, will replace Barrie in the Avalanche lineup. Roy said he isn’t concerned about his team responding to the hit by targeting any Minnesota players.
"Oh, no, it’s not the time," Roy said. "The league will do its part. The referees will do their part on the ice. And we just got to go out there and play our game. I don’t think we should focus on anything else."
Cooke will be in New York on Wednesday while his team is practicing in Minnesota, and the Wild are making plans to be without Cooke. The in-person hearing means Cooke is likely facing a suspension of at least five games.
Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher was speaking with the league by phone Tuesday as Yeo met with the media during Minnesota’s off day.
Yeo said he wasn’t sure how he would replace Cooke in the lineup.
"He’s an important player to our team, there’s no question," Yeo said. "There’s a reason he was brought here and physicality is only a very small part of it really. It’s his leadership. It’s his experience. It’s his role as a penalty-killer and a checking forward. So, certainly it’s a loss to our lineup. We’ve been a team that has been able to overcome injuries at different points of the season and at different positions."
Cooke has been suspended five times in his career, but had talked about how his game had changed when he was signed by the Wild in the offseason.
"Obviously, listen, I had the experience of working with Cookie when I was in Pittsburgh and there was a history before he came to Pittsburgh," Yeo said. "And he was a real important part of our team, a real good person on and off the ice and helped our team win a championship. So, for me, I was looking at what he did then. I looked at, Chuck obviously as well, looked at the way that he’s been able to change his game since a couple of the things that happened, and that was kind of our focus."
With the series having moved to Minnesota, Yeo had the option of matching lines against Colorado and used Cooke’s line with Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine to combat the Avalanche’s top line with Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon, who had combined for six goals in the first two games of the series.
"He was part of that matchup line, but I do believe that we have other guys that are capable of filling that void," Yeo said. "Again, this is a tough loss for us, but I know that’s a tough loss for them and I’m sure they’re not going to sit around and feel sorry for themselves. They’re going to try to find guys that can fill the void, and that’s been a team that’s been able to overcome injuries this year, and we’ve been a team that’s been able to overcome injuries, and that’s part of what the playoffs is about, dealing with different types of adversities that come your way. So that’s the challenge."
Kuemper to start Game 4: Yeo said it’s "safe to say" goaltender Darcy Kuemper will be in goal for his second straight start on Thursday when Minnesota hosts Colorado.
Kuemper made 22 saves on Monday night to become the first Wild netminder to record a playoff shutout. Kuemper had replaced Ilya Bryzgalov midway through Game 2 in Denver and stopped all 14 shots he faced.
According to the NHL, Kuemper is the first goaltender to record a 1-0 overtime shutout win in his first postseason start since Detroit’s Normie Smith in 1936.
Granlund’s development: Minnesota won Game 3 when Mikael Granlund made a highlight individual play in overtime, scoring on the Wild’s 46th shot of the game against Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Granlund broke through this season and became a vital top-6 forward for Minnesota after a tough rookie season in 2012.
Asked if he believed Granlund could be so good in his second season, Yeo said he didn’t even see Granlund’s development coming so quickly.
"No, to be honest with you, no," Yeo said. "I mean, we talked at the end of the year about young kids with skill and how you have to be careful, how you have to be careful not to rush to judgment too quickly. Because obviously last year was a trying year for him. And then you look at the lockout year and you look at the fact that he’s a rookie, the fact that he’s a player coming and trying to change his game. So there’s a lot of things involved."