ST. PAUL, Minn. - Both the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche say they are desperately trying to focus on game 4 of their hotly-contested conference playoff series, but distractions remain in the wake of a violent collision that left both teams missing an important player.
One day after he was suspended for seven games by the NHL for a knee-to-knee collision with talented Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, Wild winger Matt Cooke offered what sounded like a heartfelt apology.
"I'm disappointed and sorry that Tyson Barrie can't play for the Colorado Avalanche tonight," Cooke said while making a prepared statement for reporters. "It was not my intent to collide with him knee on knee, it was my intention to finish my check."
"Since March 20,2011, I've been a changed player," Cooke continued. "I've approached the game differently, I think differently about the game, the stats I've collected over these three seasons prove I'm a changed player, and the plays that I make and don't make prove to that point as well."
Cooke did not take questions, and left the podium as soon as he was done speaking.
Barrie suffered what is being called a sprained MCL and is for all intents and purposes out for the remainder of the playoffs. He is considered Colorado's most talented defenseman, and the key to setting the team's offense. His coach, Patrick Roy, says Cooke's suspension doesn't right the wrong.
"No matter how many games (suspension) it will not replace the player, and that player, Tyson, is very valuable to us and very important to us," Roy told reporters. "It doesn't matter if it's 5 games, 15 games or 20 games. We won't play with Tyson tonight."
Wild coach Mike Yeo will set his lineup without his top agitator in Thursday's key game 4, moving Nino Niederreiter into Cooke's slot on the third line, which shut down Colorado's high-powered scoring line on Monday. He says the team accepts Cooke's suspension, which was handed down Monday by the NHL on Wednesday, and says it's time to forge ahead.
"We definitely accept and respect what the decision is from the league, and with that it's real, real important we put it behind us. I'm very much focused on tonight," Yeo insisted. "We're playing Colorado tonight and I'm focused on the guys who are in the lineup."