Young Bolts excited for playoff debuts
While there are is a chance that 13 different Lightning players could make their National Hockey League postseason debut over the course of Round 1 (excluding Cody Kunyk), six of those players won a Calder Cup with head coach Jon Cooper just two seasons ago.
They also played into June last year with the Bolts’ new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
“A lot of guys have won seven of their last eight playoff series they’ve been a part of,” Cooper said. "There’s something to be said of that. I know this is a grander stage, but I’m a big believer that we’ve been through all of this together.”
Rookie Tyler Johnson echoed Cooper's thoughts.
“Whatever league it is, I think that plays a big role,” Tyler Johnson, who was a part of that grassroots development, said.
So that means that when it comes to how Tampa Bay prepares for Game 1, not much will change from Cooper’s end.
“I’m still going to go home, I’m still going to eat the same thing and I’m still going to try to squeeze in a little nap,” Cooper said. “We’re going to try to come here and beat a team we’ve beaten three times this year. I don’t want to differentiate; this is Game 83 on our schedule.”
That is until Cooper has that moment where he realizes “this is the Stanley Cup playoffs and we’re playing for keeps.”
The moment could come for the Bolts’ head coach when the Lightning take the ice for warm-ups – during that period, he is usually left all alone in the coaches office.
“That’ll be the one time that I sit there and time stands still,” he said.
As for how to keep the Bolts in front of him on the bench calm and collected, Cooper feels his demeanor will resonate to the rest of the team.
“If I keep doing my same thing and I’m not on edge or being nervous that helps our team,” Cooper said. “I’m consciously trying to act that way.”
And they are just as confident and excited for the puck to drop.
“When you play do or die hockey, when you play for that trophy, you’ve worked so hard for the chance, the opportunity all season,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting to know that every game matters.”
For Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette, the matchup will also be something special as they grew up fans of Montreal.
“I’ll have a lot of people watching back home and this morning I had a ton of texts,” Killorn said. “It’"It'll be exciting to have a lot of friends and family watching.”
MORNING SKATE: STARTING GOALTENDER
Netminder Anders Lindback will start with Ben Bishop sidelined with an upper body injury. Kristers Gudlevskis will back him up.
Bishop skated this morning with medical personnel and goaltending coach Frantz Jean before the Bolts took the ice. Bishop did not wear full pads, but was doing drills with Jean.
MORNING SKATE: LINES & DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
For the Bolts, lines and defensive pairings will be a game-time decision.
“I think we had one long line of 16 forwards and one long line of nine defensemen," Cooper said. "You have to show up tonight to see who plays.”
Although the lines may be some of a mystery until puck drop, forward Cedric Paquette is expected to play tonight. Yesterday during practice he centered J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov. Paquette also took some crucial third period face-offs in his NHL debut versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, showing Cooper’s confidence in him.
“Jon just asked me to play my game,” Paquette said. “To be in the face-offs at the end of the game, that’s my game.”
Forwards Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat are also expected to play. The two participated in Tuesday’s practice as well as morning skate today.