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Lightning coach Jon Cooper is having a ball in the Stanley Cup Finals

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The pressure is mounting. His goaltender missed practice. His star scorers are comparing slumps. His power play lacks power.

And, man, is Jon Cooper having fun.

That’s the point of all of this, remember? Beneath all the pressure and the pain and problems, this is essentially a kid’s game, and Cooper is loose at the carnival. All the other teams have gone home, and all the other arenas have grown quiet. Yet, the loose Lightning party on.

Isn’t that the point?

“Its probably the personality of our team, the way we are, our staff, myself,” Cooper said Friday.

“You’ve got to get caught up in the moment. You have to embrace where we are. It’s the middle of June and we’re still playing hockey.”

So yuck it up. Crack a joke. Don’t be afraid to smile. The NHL season is down to a best-of-three series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks. What could be more fun?

Oh, there are pressures. No one knows if goalie Ben Bishop is going to play Saturday night. Even Cooper says he doesn’t know. No one knows if Steven Stamkos or Tyler Johnson or Nikita Kucherov will end their slumps. No one knows how many power plays it will take before the Lightning figures it out.

But if you strip away everything else, you are left with a game. Cooper doesn’t want that forgotten.

“The Stanley Cup is up for grabs,” he said. “I don’t think we should be afraid of that. I don’t think we should walk around being tense and looking at the magnitude of where we are, being afraid of the moment.

“You know, this is the time of our lives. There’s two teams left playing in June. If we’re not having fun doing this, then why are we doing it? It’s such a phenomenal experience to go through this.

“I remember on the plane ride home thinking, ‘In six days, it’s going to be over.’ How much fun, how we’ve grown together, you just don’t want this experience to end. So we’re going to enjoy this. We may have looked a little bit loose out there, but we looked pretty good. The guys were snapping it around. That’s what we want to see.”

In other words, the Stanley Cup isn’t simply about the final result. It’s about the journey. It’s about the delight of playing to the last drop of sweat.

What could be better?

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

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