PITTSBURGH -- Matt Cooke pleaded his innocence yesterday.
The controversial Pittsburgh Penguins superpest was accused by the Carolina Hurricanes of laying a knee-on-knee hit on Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Cole during the Pens 3-2 victory in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference final Monday.
The 'Canes also suggested a first-period lower body injury suffered by forward Tuomo Ruutu might have come courtesy of a slew foot from Pittsburgh's Mark Eaton.
Cole and Ruutu both missed practice yesterday and are questionable for Game 2 tonight at the Mellon Arena.
"Neither one of them was an attack," Cooke claimed. "Neither one was a dirty hit."
Cooke said the press has blown his particular incident out of proportion, as is usually the case during the post-season.
"It always is," Cooke said. "The media sees one aspect and that's the injury.
"Any time there seems to be something happening, the media coverage intensifies and it makes it worse."
Cooke spent much of his five-minute interview session explaining his side of the collision with Cole.
"He cut across," Cooke said. "I prepared for the hit. I thought we clipped shins. I got hit as hard as he did."
Should Cole and Ruutu be unable to play tonight, 'Canes forward Eric Staal said the remainder of the team must step up.
"We have a lot of fight, a lot of character in this room," Staal said. "We are not about to quit.
"Those are two important pieces. I don't know what their status is, but if they can't go, we'll need guys to jump in."