Jon Cooper knows keys to Lightning victory

in Sports/Top Headlines by

You are Jon Cooper’s notebook pad. You have the keys to winning.

The ink is scrawled all over you. These are the directions to the Stanley Cup Final. This is how the Tampa Bay Lightning survive tonight’s Game Seven final against the New York Rangers.

Follow, and win. Fail, and it is time to turn the page.

1. Make sure Ben Bishop is facing the proper direction.

This is a big one, because Bishop’s last three home games have been an embarrassment. He has given up 16 goals in the three games, and he has sunburn from the lamp being lit so often. But the one away game he has played in the last four was a 2-0 shutout over the Rangers.

Bishop has to be solid, maybe a notch better, because the Lightning is aware that Henrik Lundqvist will be very good for the Rangers. Bishop seems especially vulnerable early in games, before he finds his rhythm, so watch for the Lightning in the game’s first five minutes.

Is Bishop capable of giving the Lightning a chance? Of course he is. He’s been in net for 51 victories this season. What’s one more?

2. Look to Steven Stamkos.

Yes, Tyler Johnson has been a phenomenon in these playoffs with 12 goals, but he’s small, and a bigger defenseman can often take him out of the game. Maybe that’s why he’s without a goal in the last three games.

Stamkos, who has four goals in the last five games, has to prove why he’s the captain. It is impossible to imagine the Lightning winning if he does not make an impact.

“When you look at these playoffs and you look at how he played in the Detroit series and he wasn’t scoring. So now he has to do other things, whether that’s playing defense, winning draws, finishing checks, whatever he can contribute to help us win, and he’s doing that,” Cooper said Thursday. “He’s still leading our team in shots.

“I think this is where Stammer has really grown, because as you watch him through the Montreal series, he moved to the wing. And now the puck is going into the net for him. He wasn’t scoring the 6-1 goals, he’s scoring the 1-nothing goal or the go-ahead goals. Just to watch his maturation going through a playoff year, it’s been a pleasure to watch.”

3. Play defense.

In the Lightning’s last victory, the Bolts were linebackers. They were savage. Yes, Bishop threw the shutout, but he had help.

The Bolts have to get back to that. They need defensemen to be goaltenders. Cooper calls Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman as good a pairing as there is in the league. They’ll have to prove it.

“One thing is to get the lead,” Cooper said. “That’s going to help you in your mindset and how you’re going to play. I think you look in this series and when a team hasn’t had the lead, it has tried to chase it a little bit. When you do have the lead, you’re in a comfort zone.”

4. Get the Triplets going.

For the Lightning, the more scoring options, the better.

In the Lightning’s three wins in this series, the Triplets (Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov) have eight goals and 13 assists. In the three losses, they have only three goals and three assists.

The biggest difference is Johnson, who has four goals and five assists in the wins, no goals and two assists in the losses. It is clear that the Lightning needs some air to get these guys kick-started.

5. Special teams.

The Lightning power play hasn’t done badly during the playoffs with a 22.2 scoring percentage. The penalty kill could have been a bit better at 80.6 percent.

The Rangers rank just behind the Lightning in both categories.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit