And so you ask Jon Cooper about Game Seven, and he tells you this: He just got here himself.
When it comes to the ultimate game, Cooper isn’t exactly a grizzled veteran. Tonight will be only the second time he’s coached a Game Seven. He wasn’t here when Gordie Howe broke into the league, OK?
“My experience in Game 7s in the NHL has been one, and that was Detroit,” said Cooper, the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, after Friday morning’s skate. “The game kind of played out the way we thought. We wrote up on the board “1-0″ and it ended up being 2-0. Detroit was leaning on us a little big, and we didn’t break, and then we got that goal. It was just a huge momentum shift. It was a weight off our shoulders, and we kind of rolled after that.
“I have no idea how tonight’s game is going to go. I’ll be shocked if we’re going to see 7-3, 6-5. My feeling is when you get down to these games where everything is on the line, I think the game sometimes is stopped being played. Obviously, both teams are trying to win but both teams seem to play not to screw something up. They wait for the other team to make the mistake.”
For the Lightning, avoiding mistakes will be key, In Tampa Bay’s three losses to the New York Rangers in this series, they have fumbled away pucks constantly in the middle of the ice.
“The one thing I find is the games change for us when we turn it over,” Cooper said. “I look back at these games where the Rangers have lit us up. It wasn’t a situation where oh, the Rangers did something unbelievable that we couldn’t stop. We just fed their transition.
“Then when the scramble’s on, their instincts take over and good players make great plays. I mean, that’s what they do. But it was our inability to get through the neutral zone or turn pucks over or not get them deep that fed the Rangers, that fed us, and that’s what happens. If we don’t get through the neutral zone or we start turning the pucks over, it’s going to be a long night.
“The games we’ve had success, we got right through them, the pucks went deep, and we went right to work on the forecheck. And the Rangers couldn’t sustain any attack against us because we didn’t give them the scramble plays where they could just instinctively go.”