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Nick Cousins ‘Dirty?’ Florida Panthers Disagree with Narrative



Cousins dirty
Nick Cousins is helped off the ice by Matthew Tkachuk after being concussed on a blindside hit from Arizona’s Jason Zucker on Jan. 2 in Tempe. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Nick Cousins has developed quite a reputation with scrappy, physical play. Lately, however, Cousins’ style has brought some unwanted criticism of the Florida Panthers forward. 

In January, Hockey Night in Canada analyst and former NHL defenseman Kevin Bieksa called Cousins “a rat” on national television.

Last week, a player survey in The Athletic had Cousins atop a poll for having “the most punchable face” in the league.

Speaking to FHN and the Miami Herald on Sunday, Cousins said he does not care about the criticism. 

Neither does his coach nor his teammates. 

“That’s the kind of style I’ve played throughout my whole career,” Cousins said. “Some guys like it, some guys don’t.

“That has gotten me where I am, and I don’t really plan on changing, either. Some people like it. Some people don’t. Honestly, it is what it is.”

Paul Maurice says he is “good” with how Cousins plays on the edge.

“Players get reputations whether they earn it or not,” Maurice said. “You’ll have more people dislike you, and I’m good with that. 

“I’m good with Nick, and I’m good with the way he plays.”

Cousins has made a career as a physical forward who isn’t afraid to throw around hits — and toss out plenty of chirps.

He has done so for the past ten years while playing for six different teams.

Yet he has not received heat for his behavior until recently.

It all revolves around a pair of hits some have called dirty. 

The most recent of the two, involving a collision with a downed Juuso Valimaki on Jan. 2 against the Coyotes, sparked Bieksa’s outrage on Hockey Night in Canada.

Cousins was not penalized for the hit on Valimaki — but he was concussed when Jason Zucker blindsided him with a full-speed check against the boards.

Bieksa called Cousins “a rat,” saying that “dirty” hits are a “trend” for Cousins, referring to two other hits involving Erik Gudbranson and Mark Schiefele.

“The guy clearly doesn’t like me,” Cousins said of Bieska. 

“I mean, my phone started blowing up one night when I was at home, and I didn’t know what it was. Then, a couple of people sent me the clip. He’s entitled to his own opinion.

“I’ve never met him before. I’d like to meet him, though.”

Cousins, after those incidents, was only assessed a 2-minute minor for boarding Gudbranson after officials in Columbus originally hit him with a 5-minute major. 

After review, the penalty was downgraded leading to anger from Gudbranson and the Columbus bench. 

Later in the period, Gudbranson took down Cousins by the neck and began pounding on him.

Gudbranson was ejected from the game and later given a one-game suspension.

Zucker got a four-game penalty for boarding Cousins. 

Cousins has a grand-total of 20 penalty minutes this season which is tied for 12th on the team.

He has one more penalty than former Lady Byng winner Sasha Barkov.

“I’m biased. I’ve watched every shift he’s played for the last year and a half, and I can guarantee nobody else has,” Maurice said.

“His biggest year, he has 41 penalty minutes. In the events this year, he garnered a two-minute penalty, and the players on the other side had five games of suspension. Those are the facts. But I’m biased about it.

“After that, his teammates love him, we love him, and that’s the great part about this sport. It’s a full-contact, hotly-contested sport.”

Cousins’ teammates backed him up when Zucker and the Coyotes came to town late last month. 

“I love having him on our team,” Matthew Tkachuk said, before alluding to Cousins’ series-clinching overtime goal against Toronto in the East semifinals

“He was a very important player for us down the stretch last year and this year, come playoff time. Playing on a line with him, especially, he was a lot of fun to play with, and I thought we had some very good chemistry and played really well.’’

Tkachuk, Ryan Lomberg, and Jonah Gadjovich had a now famous pregame meeting with Zucker, and a couple Arizona enforcers during warmups. 

Then, Lomberg and Gadjovich dropped the gloves with Jack McBain and Liam O’Brien respectively, seconds after the opening puck drop.

It was their answer for the blindsided hit from Zucker on Cousins which left him concussed and out of the Florida lineup.

Cousins is expected back tonight against Philadelphia for the first time in over a month.

“The guys having my back against Arizona meant a lot to me,” Cousins said.

“It just goes to show the great team we have in this dressing room. I think, no matter who it is, everybody is going to have each other’s back, and that’s been our M.O. all year.

“When [Sasha Barkov] got hit against Pittsburgh by Letang, everybody had a response. That’s what good teams have.”

Players on opposing teams have caught onto that quickly — enough so that three of the top eight players in the “punchable” poll were members of the Panthers.

Tkachuk ranked third, Lomberg was No. 8; Brandon Montour received one vote.

Radko Gudas, now with the Anaheim Ducks, ranked 15th after his three-year tenure with the Panthers helped set the tone for the team’s culture.

“I think that’s something we’re happy about,” Lomberg told FHN.

“People don’t like to play us because it’s our M.O. of playing hard and being tough to play against. I would say it’s more of a playoff mindset. We kind of always play that way. We don’t wait for the playoffs to get physical.

“We don’t really care if people want to punch us or not.”

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