Lightning gains valuable experience in series win over Detroit
Lightning defenceman celebrates Tampa Bay’s Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings with goaltender Ben Bishop on Wednesday night in Florida. Bishop was a difference-maker in the series and will be counted on against the Montreal Canadiens. (AFP/PHOTO)
Each experience for a hockey team can serve as a valuable lesson, but Jon Cooper would prefer that his Tampa Bay Lightning recall only the most recent.
For the Lightning, that’s the elimination of the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, not the regular-season series sweep of the Montreal Canadiens.
“We don’t have a team that looks back and says, well, we beat this team in the regular season and (as such) we’re going to beat them in the playoffs,” Cooper said in Tampa before the club headed to Montreal to begin the second round against the Canadiens on Friday night.
“That’s not our mindset at all. The lesson learned is how to win a playoff series and we did that.”
That’s something the Lightning did not have a year ago when it began the playoffs against the Canadiens. Four games later, the Lightning was sent packing.
True, it’s a different Lightning group that will step on to the ice in a raucous Bell Centre for Game 1. For starters, it’s Ben Bishop in goal, not Anders Lindback, who started all four games last spring because Bishop was hurt.
On the blue line, gone are Michael Kostka, Eric Brewer, Radko Gudas and Sami Salo. There’s a lot more playoff savvy a year later with Braydon Coburn and Anton Stralman, and Jason Garrison has been added.
At forward, the core is the same with captain Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson at the helm. Brian Boyle, a free-agent signing last July, has been as solid a depth player a team could ask for in the playoffs.
Like Cooper said, it’s more about what the team has accomplished recently. Tampa didn’t wilt against Detroit, and had to win three of the next four games after the Wings took a 2-1 series lead. Heading into Joe Louis Arena for Game 6, on the brink of elimination, the Lightning pasted the Wings 5-2.
“That helped,” forward Ryan Callahan said. “We faced some adversity, having to win Game 6, Game 7, I think having that experience helps, having our backs against the wall and realizing how hard series are to win and how hard it is to close out series. Hopefully it can carry over.”
In Game 7, the Wings were better than the Lightning, but Bishop was better than Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek.
That the Lightning beat the Canadiens in all five meetings between the teams in the regular season? Not a big deal.
“They still finished ahead of us (in the standings, with 110 points to Tampa’s 108), so they’re a really good team,” Boyle said. “We know that. They’re going to be pretty hungry to beat us to start the series.
“Our team has confidence, but they are going to be a confident bunch too. They had a pretty convincing win over Ottawa (in the first round).”
One area that’s going to be intriguing is power plays. The Lightning in the first round had 30 power plays, the most among the 16 teams, but scored just two goals for a 6.7% success rate. The Canadiens were worse, scoring twice on 20 power plays to come in at 5.0%. Only the New York Islanders had more trouble in the first round, as they did not score once in 14 opportunities against the Washington Capitals.
Bishop is going to be a key, and he’s a perfect example of what Cooper wants in his players. Bishop was not great as the series versus the Wings was in the early stages, but allowed just two goals in the final two games, improving as the series progressed and got to its most important stage. Bishop had said after Game 7 he was not going to be troubled mentally by having to out-perform Carey Price.
Cooper is ready for the Canadiens, and his players appear to be as well.
“Would we like to have another crack at them?” Cooper said. “For sure, because of what happened last year. What was more important to us is we weren’t really worried about who was going to win the Montreal-Ottawa series, we were worried about who was going to win Tampa-Detroit. Whoever we would face, we would face, and it happens to be Montreal.
STAMMER'S 'TIME TO SHINE' WILL COME
Jon Cooper has a hunch about his captain.
“A different guy shines every game,” the Tampa Bay Lightning coach said, “and trust me, Stammer’s time to shine is coming up.”
Much has been made of Steven Stamkos’ failure to score a goal in the first round after he had 43 in the regular season.
Stamkos has gone eight games in a row without scoring a goal, including the final game of the regular season. That’s his longest drought of 2014-15.
Stamkos has eight goals in 29 career playoff games, including two in four games against the Montreal Canadiens last spring.
“I think the fact that Stammer hasn’t scored and we (beat Detroit) probably bodes well because it speaks a little bit to the depth of our team,” Cooper said. “I don’t think anyone can say one guy carries a team.”