Lightning coach Jon Cooper on verge of a familiar feeling

Jon Cooper was a fresh-faced rising star when he coached the Norfolk Admirals to the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup championship in 2012 after going on a 28-game winning streak during the season.

Now, he is one Tampa Bay Lightning victory away from becoming just the second coach in the NHL’s salary-cap era to hoist the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. Cooper is one of many parallels between Norfolk nine years ago and Tampa Bay now, although the former lawyer acknowledges he is better at his job thanks to almost a decade behind the bench in the top hockey league in the world.

“I’m a much more experienced, seasoned, better coach than I was then,” Cooper said. “I’ve learned a ton from other coaches, watching other coaches and then from the game. The longer you’re around and you see tendencies in the game and things that you think you can improve upon, it just takes time. I guess that’s why it’s called experience.”

The experience in 2012 was a building block to this moment. Along with Cooper, Lightning forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn were key pieces for the Admirals.

Only three Norfolk players had more points during that playoff run than Johnson. After playing in a reduced role in the 2020 bubble playoffs and even getting put on waivers twice for cap reasons, Johnson got the call to move up in the lineup when Killorn was injured early in the final and delivered.

It was little surprise to Cooper when Johnson scored twice in Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens to put Tampa Bay up 3-0 in the series.

“There’s a reason Tyler Johnson’s trophy case is fairly full, and it’s because he’s an ultimate team player,” Cooper said. “We never lost faith in Tyler Johnson and he never lost faith in himself. Roles change, you have to adapt and nobody has done it better than Tyler.”

Johnson, like Cooper, Killorn, Palat and a few others, is also a link to Tampa Bay’s 2015 run to the final before losing to Chicago. That made Lightning players realize how tough it was to win and fueled them last year and now.

“Don’t know how many chances you’re going to get,” Johnson said. “I know how fun it was last year when we won, so you want to do that again. Anytime you get this close, you really feel it.”

Cooper feels like there are many similarities between the 2012 Admirals and 2021 Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy tending goal like Dustin Tokarski, Steven Stamkos is leading like Norfolk captain Mike Angelidis, and the mentality of each team is the same.

“You have to have an ability to win games that are semi-high scoring and you have to be able to win games 1-0,” said Cooper, who was a finalist for Washington’s head job in the summer of 2012 and promoted to coach Tampa Bay in March 2013. “Both teams had goaltending, both teams had big strong D and both teams had dynamic forwards. But I guess probably the biggest similarity was they were extremely mentally tough where you could go into games at the start of a game and feel like you had the lead already.”

It has looked like that so far against the Canadiens. The Lightning have never trailed, and now they have an opportunity to cap it off just like the Admirals — with a sweep in the final.

None of it would be possible without Cooper, who players enjoy for how he tries to explain hockey in simple terms. That is very un-lawyer-speak of the 53-year-old who quit his job in 1999 to coach full time.

“You can paint a picture black and white a lot of times and be pretty specific and analyze things, but he does a great job of keeping that message positive and keeping that message coming in different directions,” veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “For us, we know that he’s going to set ourselves up and set our team up for success when he is breaking things down.”

Stamkos, one of the handful of players who predated Cooper’s arrival with the Lightning, feels as if he and his teammates have taken on their confident coach’s demeanor. The way he approaches playoff games and series has certainly rubbed off on players and contributed to what’s is closing in on a potential second consecutive Cup win.

“He wants guys to go out there and do what they’re best at and be confident in doing that,” Stamkos said. “He’s obviously grown as a coach since he’s been here in Tampa, but he’s maintained that expectation: that guys go out there and play with what’s gotten them to this level.”

Cooper is now at a coaching level that has him as the leading candidate to be in charge of Canada’s 2022 Olympic team next winter, assuming the NHL reaches an agreement to send players to Beijing. He would then get the chance to coach Lightning star Brayden Point, Canadiens goalie Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber and maybe Stamkos and against the likes of Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman.

That’s a short tournament and a different kind of test. Cooper has already aced the exam of handling the long NHL season and playoffs.

“He’s one of the best guys at getting us adjustments within a series or adjusting to things in the season … and handling adversity in different fashions, whether it’s a guy getting hurt or a slump in our play,” McDonagh said. “Just has a great sense of where the room’s at at all times and when to step back and let the players handle it or when he needs to step up and let his voice be heard.”

CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING (TB leads series 3-0)

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*if necessary

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.