Sunday's Three Stars
1. Matt Cooke, Pittsburgh -- There's going to be a lot of soul-searching going on in the hockey world after that boondoggle Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, a melee disguised as a hockey game that provided the tree-huggers with a good six month's worth of "I told you sos."
Look, I proudly count myself among the cavemen. I believe physical intimidation is embedded in the very soul of this game and should be exercised as often as possible. But what we saw today, with Arron Asham mugging Brayden Schenn and James Neal launching himself into a pair of unsuspecting Flyers? That's not tough. That's cheap, and it goes to the core of the single biggest problem facing the game today: The lack of respect some players have for their peers. And here's the thing: It won't matter what kind of fines or suspensions Brendan Shanahan lays down (if any) for these transgressions. It comes down to these players, and guys like Shea Weber and Matt Carkner and Carl Hagelin figuring it out for themselves. They can continue hurting their teams, hurting their peers and hurting their careers ... or they can fix their act. And that's how Cooke came to mind today.
Two years ago, Cooke was the poster child for mindless violence, suspended five times for head shots alone (most prominently his career-ending near-decapitation of Boston's Marc Savard). Following yet another league-mandated vacation, this time for an elbow to the head of New York Ranger Ryan McDonagh, the light finally clicked on. Cooke realized that his livelihood, and potentially the livelihoods of everyone sharing the ice with him, required that he become a smarter, more respectful player. And that's exactly what he's made of himself, a fact never more apparent than it was today. He's still a physical presence (evidenced by his team-high five hits), but in a game that saw 158 total penalty minutes racked up by the Pens and Flyers, Cooke didn't earn a single one of them. Amazing. While all the silliness was going, he kept his cool. Cooke has figured it out. The others will, too ... if they want to.
2. Stephen Weiss, Florida -- Enough sermonizing. Time for the feel-good stories. You've got to be pretty cold not to be feeling it for Weiss today. He had, after all, suffered through a frustrating Game 1 loss after waiting 10 agonizing years for his first taste of postseason action. His two-goal performance in Florida's series-evening Game 2 win, then, was pretty sweet.
"It was worth the wait," he said. "Worth the wait."
Weiss had stated earlier that Florida's power play had to be better if they hoped to even up the series. He made sure it was. His first goal came on a power play just 23 seconds in, setting a club record for fastest goal to start a game. He then became the first player in franchise history to score twice with the extra man in a playoff game when he beat Martin Brodeur 1:12 into the second. Weiss' offense was key to the 4-2 win, Florida's first in the postseason since 1997.
3. Kevin Klein, Nashville -- No qualms with the official Three Stars announced at Joe Louis after Nashville's 3-2 victory. Shea Weber inflamed Detroit's fans with his physical play and an early power play goal, Pekka Rinne looked mountainous in a 41-save performance and Pavel Datsyuk was at his larcenous best.
Still, it was the unheralded Klein who caught my eye thanks to a pair of spectacular plays. The first, a stunner from a defender with 12 career goals, started with a nifty shake-and-bake move that left Brad Stuart rooted at the Detroit blueline and ended with a sizzling wrister that beat Jimmy Howard high glove side.
"Normally, I'm not known for making moves," Klein said, "so I just tried to go wide and put it in. It was nice."
Yeah, it was. Almost as nice as his game-saving block that prevented Detroit from capitalizing on a third period surge of momentum that threatened to wipe out Nashville's strong start.
"I ijust tried to take the pass away," he said after sliding through the crease and deflecting Cory Emmerton's bid at a gaping Nashille cage. "I saw [Rinne] was out [of position] and I just happened to get a stick on it,. Hey, he saves my butt enough."
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