Instead, the Carolina Hurricanes’ forward settled for another lopsided victory against Brooks Orpik and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Cole assisted on Carolina’s first two goals, and the Hurricanes went on to a 6-2 victory over the Penguins on Saturday night.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a tough game to play,” Cole said, referring to the subplot involving Orpik. “It was really tough to stay into it tonight. But at the same time, I am thankful we just got the two points.”
Rod Brind’Amour had a goal and an assist. Justin Williams, Ray Whitney, Eric Belanger and Chad LaRose also beat Pittsburgh’s Jocelyn Thibault, and Kevyn Adams added an empty-net goal for the Hurricanes, who improved to 9-3-2 in their last 14 games.
But most of the attention was focused on Cole, who played his first game against Orpik since he rammed Cole into the boards, breaking his neck. The injury cost Cole three months – and nearly ended his career – while Orpik was suspended for three games.
Orpik was injured and missed last month’s game, which the Hurricanes won 5-1.
“I’m proud of Erik – for the hype that went on with the game, he was focused, he helped set up the first two goals and played a real solid game for us,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “Erik was a class act.”
John LeClair and Mark Recchi had second-period goals for Pittsburgh. The Penguins have lost five straight and have been outshot 179-101 during that slide.
“Tonight, it was just a weird game,” Penguins forward Sidney Crosby said. “We want to forget it just like the last one.”
Cam Ward, coming off his first career regular-season shutout two nights earlier against Washington, made 18 saves and improved to 4-1-0 in five career starts against the Penguins.
Thibault stopped 24 shots in his second start of the season.
Williams scored Carolina’s first goal with a two-man advantage, tapping a loose puck past Thibault at 12:51, and on that play Cole recorded his 100th career assist.
Whitney gave the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead five minutes later, taking a pass from Cole and beating Thibault with a wrist shot.
Brind’Amour gave the Hurricanes a three-goal lead when he scored on the power play 1:29 into the second period, one-timing a pass from Eric Staal to make it 3-0.
“Sometimes we’re doing some good things. Sometimes we need to be a little bit sharper, a little bit better, but specialty teams have been strong for us,” Laviolette said.
The Penguins scored twice later in the second to make it a one-goal game. LeClair started the rally when he trickled a shot past Ward at 3:18, and Recchi pulled Pittsburgh to 3-2 with a slap shot from the left circle at 16:42.
But Belanger restored Carolina’s two-goal lead midway through the third period when he came down the left side and beat Thibault with a wrist shot. Adams and LaRose scored short-handed goals 51 seconds apart late in the third.
Tensions were high at the start. Orpik was booed lustily nearly every time he touched the puck, and then things got chippy about seven minutes in. Carolina’s Mike Commodore and Pittsburgh’s Chris Thorburn traded punches, with each player drawing five-minute penalties for fighting.
Notes: Cole’s two assists gave him 101 for his career. … Cole has four goals and five assists in his last four games. The Hurricanes won three of those and lost the fourth in a shootout at New Jersey. … Recchi played his first game at the RBC Center since helping Carolina win the Stanley Cup. He signed with the Penguins during the off-season. … Hurricanes D Tim Gleason (shoulder) missed his sixth straight game. D Niclas Wallin also did not play. … Scratched for Pittsburgh were forwards Ronald Petrovicky and Andre Roy, and D Eric Cairns.