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.”
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?