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Sunday, March 5, 2006
Major loss for 'Canes: Cole out 6-8 weeks

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Carolina left wing Erik Cole will miss at least the rest of the regular season with a compression fracture in a vertebra in his neck caused when he was driven headfirst into the boards by Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik during a 7-5 Hurricanes victory Saturday night.

Erik Cole

Cole, tied for second on the team in scoring, will be out at least 6-to-8 weeks -- a major loss for what currently is the team with the NHL's best record. The Hurricanes have not ruled out Cole returning for the playoffs, which begin in mid-April.

Cole had scored two goals for the second night in a row before he was rammed into the dasher boards from behind by Orpik with 14:42 remaining as the Hurricanes were trying to hold off the Penguins, who trailed 5-0 and 6-1 before rallying.

The Hurricanes, who lead the NHL with 88 points, have not ruled out Cole returning for the playoffs, which begin in mid-April.

Cole was slammed into the boards near the right circle, along the side of the ice where the bench areas are located, after he appeared to lose his footing just before Orpik hit him.

Cole, who had hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career earlier in the game, was doubled over in pain while being helped off the ice. He was taken to Pittsburgh's UPMC Presbyterian, where he was examined and released Sunday morning before returning to Raleigh to be examined by team orthopedic physician Douglas Martini.

To replace Cole, the Hurricanes -- who lead the NHL with 88 points -- recalled forward Andrew Ladd from Lowell (AHL) for Monday night's game at the New York Rangers.

After Cole was hurt, both Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette and defenseman Bret Hedican criticized the officiating, with Hedican saying the officials let the game get out of control. Earlier, the game featured a fight between Pittsburgh's Andre Roy and Carolina's Mike Commodore, the first fight involving a Carolina player since Jan. 26.

Laviolette called on the NHL to discipline Orpik, a marginal defender who has tried to develop a reputation for being a big hitter during his two-plus NHL seasons.

"I'm sure the league will follow up on it," Laviolette said. "I just think people who have a history of putting other players in the league in vulnerable situations, there's no room for that. There's no room for [risking] somebody's well-being."

The injury comes during a key stretch of the Hurricanes' season in which they are playing five road games in eight nights and nine of 10 games on the road. They are 3-0 since the Olympic break, with the 27-year-old Cole getting four goals and two assists.

Cole's 60 points in 60 games are a career high and tie him with Cory Stillman for second on the team, behind Eric Staal's 82 points.