Cole in their stove

Edmonton Oilers defenceman Jaroslav Spacek is hit by Carolina Hurricanes' Erik Cole during Game 6...

Edmonton Oilers defenceman Jaroslav Spacek is hit by Carolina Hurricanes' Erik Cole during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night. (Edmonton Sun/Perry Mah)

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes may not have shown it, but having Erik Cole back in the lineup on Saturday was a big boost.

The Hurricanes forward was a surprise insertion into Game 6, playing his first game since fracturing a vertebra in his neck.

Cole, 27, will be in the lineup again tonight for Game 7.

"It may not have looked positive on the scoreboard, but it was a lift," said Hurricanes defenceman Mike Commodore. "That was an awful injury, the worst I've ever seen. It was tough for him, he being arguably our best player.

"It was tough seeing him in that brace the first time. It was nice to see him come back and it was nice seeing him out there."

HIT FROM BEHIND

Cole was injured on March 4th when drilled from behind by Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins, falling head-first into the boards.

Cole had been skating with the Hurricanes for a number of weeks, but a return this season seemed unlikely. Especially considering Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette had ruled it out only a few days before.

"I think it was a good thing getting him in there for Game 6," Laviolette said yesterday. "One, the players now know that he's in there as well. As of (Saturday) afternoon, they showed a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not he was going to play. Players left the morning skate and the team meal not knowing if he was in the lineup."

Cole needed to take a final CT scan to receive the green light to play, but had to fly up to Denver in order to get it.

His doctor was flown into Edmonton on the family charter and gave the six-foot-two, 200-pound winger the go-ahead the afternoon of the game.

"Basically the risk that I was at (Saturday) night and that I'm at right now, is basically no different than the risk I'm going to be at in September," Cole said.

"It's three and-a-half months since the injury and that's when a majority of the healing process moves along. Perhaps I'll be at a slighter decreased risk come September, but it's not going to change much from now until then."

Cole was essentially resigned to the fact he would not play in this year's playoffs until Doug Weight went down with an injury.

He then entertained the thought of taking Weight's spot in the lineup, which got the wheels in motion.

"I made a comment to (assistant coach) Jeff Daniels that if Dougie can't go, does that mean I'm in?" Cole said.

"He kind of just shook his head at me and I mentioned it to Peter and then we got to thinking why not take a look? It wouldn't hurt to look and see how much further along the healing process was and thankfully it was far enough along that I was able to play."

TOOK BIG HIT

Cole said nobody tried to discourage him from playing, including his wife.

He ended up getting 6:14 of ice time in Game 6, most of it coming in the first two periods.

He also took a hit from Ethan Moreau early in the game, which had some of his teammates holding their breath on the bench.

"There was part of you that knows they were going to target him and hit him, so you couldn't think about it," said Hurricanes forward Kevyn Adams.

"But the comfort that I took is knowing that he was not going to be on that ice unless the people that understand his injury and understand everything were going to let him on that ice. That's what I was able to take from it and it gives you all the confidence in the world that they kind of know what they're doing - they're specialists for a reason."


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