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Cooper: Drouin will play in series

Jonathan Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, will be a healthy scratch tonight, giving him just one appearance (Game 4 against Detroit) in nine playoff games.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Jonathan Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, will be a healthy scratch tonight, giving him just one appearance (Game 4 against Detroit) in nine playoff games.

The fact touted rookie Jonathan Drouin continues to sit during the playoffs remains a hot topic, especially in Canada.

Even Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman wrote in his column for a French newspaper today that Drouin should be playing.

But Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, will be a healthy scratch tonight, giving him just one appearance (Game 4 against Detroit) in nine playoff games.

“Anything that is probably something the player doesn’t want to hear is a tough call,’’ coach Jon  Cooper said. “We have a pretty tight knit team in there, and Jo is a pretty big part of our team this year. But to tell him to sit out ... it’s tough for everybody (to hear). He’s an extreme talent and he’s getting better and better. This is a learning lesson for him, just as it was for (Nikita Kucherov) last year or any of (those) guys.

“But we put in the 20 players we feel give us the best chance to play, and probably moving forward here he’s probably going to be in that 20 all the time. Just right now, he’s on the sidelines. Whether he has to wait his turn or we feel a matchup is best for him, I’ll tell you Jo is going to play in the series at some point.’’ …

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Lightning look to grab "stranglehold" of series

The Lightning finds itself in an enviable position, winning the first game on the road in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal against the Canadiens, an emotional 2-1 double overtime victory Friday night.

But Tampa Bay wants more heading into Sunday's Game 2 at the Bell Centre.

"We can really take a stranglehold on this series," defenseman Matt Carle said. "We have a really good opportunity to go up 2-0 and grab two wins out of their building."

The Lightning, which has beaten the Canadiens six straight games (five in the regular season), know Montreal will come out desperate Sunday, not wanting to dig such a big hole heading to Tampa for Games 3 and 4 Wednesday and Thursday.

Coach Jon Cooper said his team has learned its lesson from the first series with Detroit, where no team won back-to-back games until the Lightning took the final two to claim the series. The Lightning remembers having lackluster performances in Game 3 and Game 5 after wins, both losses, wanting to make sure this is different.

"So now what do you do? Rest on that you won Game 1 and get the split?" Cooper said. "Or go for the throat and take them both. That's been talked about a lot in the room." …

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Lightning return to "scene of the crime"

The Lightning comes in confident, and also focused, captain Steven Stamkos said.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Lightning comes in confident, and also focused, captain Steven Stamkos said.

It didn't take Lightning coach Jon Cooper long to address the elephant in the room at the Bell Centre, opening his pre-game press conference with this:

"Back to the scene of the crime, a year later?" Cooper quipped.

The Lightning's season ended here stunningly last April, getting swept in the first round by the Canadiens. Tampa Bay hasn't been playing up the revenge card, pointing out how its a much different team than the one that lost last year. Just look at the handful of new players in the lineup, especially goalie Ben Bishop.

"That's a very big difference," Cooper said.

So is this. The Canadiens, which won the Atlantic Division and have home ice advantage, are calling themselves underdogs, per coach Michel Therrien. How did Cooper respond?

"They had 110 points, won the division, have a Vezina candidate, Hart candidate, Norris candidate. I guess if we had those, I'd say, 'Yeah he's the underdog," Cooper said. "But we don't have those."

The Lightning comes in confident, and also focused, captain Steven Stamkos said. While Tampa Bay won all five regular season meetings against Montreal, goalie Ben Bishop said that means nothing. As Stamkos said, "This is a brand new ballgame." …

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Lightning-Canadiens playoff tickets go on sale Friday

The Lightning will put single game playoff tickets for its second round series against Montreal on sale at 10 a.m. Friday.

Tampa Bay will host Games 3 & 4 next Wednesday and Thursday at Amalie Arena, both at 7 p.m. It will also have Game 6, if necessary, on May 12, a Tuesday.

The same Lightning ticket policy for first round applies in second — those who buy online must have a Florida ID. 

Tickets are available at arena box office, TicketMaster or tampabaylightning.com

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Niklas Kronwall 'extremely disappointed' in NHL suspension for Game 7

Niklas Kronwall said he hasn’t slept well the last two nights and said it was difficult to hear the decision Tuesday night.

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Niklas Kronwall said he hasn’t slept well the last two nights and said it was difficult to hear the decision Tuesday night.

TAMPA – Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said he’s “extremely disappointed” the league suspended him for tonight’s Game 7 against the Lightning but that he put himself in the situation – even if he doesn’t understand the decision.

Kronwall said he hasn’t slept well the last two nights and said it was difficult to hear the decision Tuesday night.

“Obviously not one of the best moments of my life,” Kronwall said. “But there’s not much I could do, really.”

Kronwall was suspended after the league determined he left his feet and launched himself high into Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov. Kronwall said he didn’t think both feet left the ice but nonetheless took responsibility for the action.

“Like I said earlier, I disagree with the decision,” Kronwall said. “I feel like it happened a bit different way than what they feel, but that’s how it is. I did something to put them in a situation where they could make the final call. Any way you look at it, that’s on me.”

Kronwall – one of the league’s top hitters – said he was glad Kucherov was OK after the collision.  …

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Final Lightning thoughts before Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings

Nikita Kucherov said he feels fine but didn’t say much else about Niklas Kronwall's hit, calling it a league decision.

AP photo

Nikita Kucherov said he feels fine but didn’t say much else about Niklas Kronwall's hit, calling it a league decision.

TAMPA – The Lightning went through its typical morning skate and media availability today before Game 7. A few notes:

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the absence of Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall won’t affect his team’s preparation or game plan.

“For us, it changes nothing,” Cooper said. “Detroit’s going to dress 20 players. My job is to beat the Detroit Red Wings.”

The league announced Kronwall’s suspension for Game 7 on Tuesday night. Kronwall delivered a high hit to wing Nikita Kucherov, with the “significant head contact” coming from Kronwall launching himself into Kucherov.

Kucherov said he feels fine but didn’t say much else about the hit, calling it a league decision.

Cooper said the Lightning will consider using 11 forwards and seven defensemen again. The team is 2-0 when it’s done so this series.

“I think it gives you a different look,” Cooper said. “It gives you different options. I like having the extra defenseman there. I could go down the list of reasons why. It’s not just one.”

Cooper said the Lightning will have 21 players skate during the pre-game warmup and will make a decision on the lineup after that.  …

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Kronwall suspended for Game 7 for hit on Kucherov

The hit occurred in the final minute of the second period, with Niklas Kronwall leaving his feet and connecting his elbow/forearm to the head of Nikita Kucherov, who went down hard on the ice.

Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/TNS

The hit occurred in the final minute of the second period, with Niklas Kronwall leaving his feet and connecting his elbow/forearm to the head of Nikita Kucherov, who went down hard on the ice.

Update: Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall has been suspended for Game 7 against the Lightning for charging wing Nikita Kucherov in Monday's game.

The NHL's Player Safety Department announced the decision this evening, delivering a big blow to Detroit, which will be without its top defenseman.

There was no penalty called when Kronwall left his feet and his Kucherov's head with his forearm late in the second period, knocking the Lightning wing to the ice, and dislodging his helmet. But in a video explanation, NHL Player Safety Department states that supplemental discipline was warranted due to the force with which the hit was delivered, and the "significant head contact that resulted from Kronwall launching" into Kucherov.

Kronwall hasn't been fined, or suspended in his 11-year- NHL career until today. Kronwall routinely faces opposing team's top lines and has played more than 23 minutes in each of the last four games in this series. After Monday's game, Kucherov didn't appear to take issue with the hit, saying it was part of the game. …

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Cooper on Red Wings' interference: "Fight through it, boys"

"Fight through it boys," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper is telling his players about the Red Wings' clutch-and-grab tactics.

DIRK SHADD | Times

"Fight through it boys," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper is telling his players about the Red Wings' clutch-and-grab tactics.

The subject of the Red Wings' penchant for interference was a hot topic for the second straight day, but coach Jon Cooper insisted it wasn't a plea for more penalty calls.

"You trying to get out, 'The coach is whining for penalties,' that's not it at all," Cooper said. "I'm sure what's going on in our series is going on in the rest of them."

So what is Cooper's message to his team?

"Fight through it boys," Cooper said. The guys in stripes could call one."

Cooper has said the Red Wings commit interference more than any other team, quipping, 'If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying, They do it to a 'T.'' But when told of Cooper's comments Monday, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock delivered a subtle shot of his own.

"I just think in playoff time, there's no room," Babcock said. "The most determined team fights through. If you're not determined, you can't fight through."

The Lightning hasn't been able to, getting shut out in two of the last three games, and eight of nine regulation periods. It's not that Detroit isn't getting called for penalties, as the Lightning has had 24 power plays, most by any team in the playoffs (but are 2-for-24). Cooper said the Lightning just has to find a way into the "dirty areas."

"You can't avoid it, because if you avoid contact you're not going to get to the net, and that's where we have to get," Cooper said. "In order to get there, contact is going to happen. I think for us, in some of those situations, we need the puck to go off somebody's butt into the net or something like that."

Steven Stamkos said the Lightning has to give the Red Wings some diffrent looks in the offensive zone.

"I know it's tough to do, but we have to find a way," Stamkos said. "Hopefully tonight's position we are in with our back against the wall, we can play with desperation from the beginning. It's not pretty. I know we have a lot of speed and skill on this team, and we want to make some nice plays. But at the same time, we realize that a lot of that is not working against this particular team against this particular series."

And, Stamkos even suggests, when you cant beat them, join them.

"Maybe we have to put that our game a little bit," Stamkos said. " …

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Cooper on Red Wings' interference: "Fight through it, boys"

The subject of the Red Wings' penchant for inteference was a hot topic for the second straight day, but coach Jon Cooper insisted it wasn't a plea for more penalty calls.

"You trying to get out, 'The coach is whining for penalties,' that's not it at all," Cooper said. "I'm sure what's gong on in our series is going on in the rest of them."

So what is Cooper's message to his team?

"Fight through it boys," Cooper said. The guys in stripes could call one."

Cooper has said the Red Wings commit interference more than any other team, quipping, 'If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying, They do it to a 'T.'' But when told of Cooper's comments Monday, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock delivered a subtle shot of his own.

"I just think in playoff time, there's no room," Babcock said. "The most determined team fights through. If you're not determined, you can't fight through." …

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Steven Stamkos: I'm not injured

Steven Stamkos hasn't scored a goal in five games this series - talling just two assists - sparking questions about his health.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos hasn't scored a goal in five games this series - talling just two assists - sparking questions about his health.

Lightning star Steven Stamkos put all the speculation to rest Monday, saying he's not playing hurt.

Stamkos hasn't scored a goal in five games this series - talling just two assists - sparking questions about his health.

"Obviously cause I'm not scoring, people think you're injured," Stamkos said. "That's not the case. I feel great. Obviously everyone is going through some bumps and bruises at this time (of year). But if I had a couple goals, nobody would ask me if I was injured."

With the Lightning struggling offensively, getting shut out twice in the past three games, Stamkos' slump has been magnified. He ranked second in the league with 43 goals in the regular sesaon.

"It comes with the territory," Stamkos said. "For me, I judge my game on how hard I'm competing, the litte things I"m trying to do well. Obviously I get judged on offense and production and that's something I do judge myself on as well, especially when things aren't going well and the team isn't winning, it gets magnified. Hopefully I can break through tonight." …

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Lightning prepares for Game 5 against Detroit Red Wings

Wing Ryan Callahan has 22 hits – nine more than anyone else on the Lightning.

Getty Images

Wing Ryan Callahan has 22 hits – nine more than anyone else on the Lightning.

TAMPA – The Lightning skipped its typical morning skate before tonight’s Game 5 against the Red Wings. A few quick notes from this morning’s media availability:

* The Lightning admitted to exhaling a bit after winning Game 2 and finally getting a playoff victory. But after the Game 3 letdown, coach Jon Cooper has stressed that he doesn’t expect the intensity to dip, even after Thursday’s comeback.

“We’re coming home,” Cooper said. “This is a business trip for us. Now it’s a best of three. Everybody knows how pivotal getting Game 5 is. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win a series, but it gives you a heck of a better chance.”

* Cooper politely declined to say whether there would be any lineup changes tonight. Wing Jonathan Drouin made his playoff debut in Game 4 and said he doesn’t know whether he’ll be in the lineup tonight.

“It’s just an eye-opening experience sometimes,” Cooper said of a rookie’s first playoff game. “You’re just taking it all in. He kind of went the way of our team. He did some good things in the game. Some things were a little passive in the game. … For a first showing, he showed well.”  …

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Cooper indicated there could be lineup changes for Game 4

At forward, tonight would seem like a good opportunity to put in rookie wing Jonathan Drouin, who has been scratched the first three games.

DIRK SHADD | Times

At forward, tonight would seem like a good opportunity to put in rookie wing Jonathan Drouin, who has been scratched the first three games.

With the Lightning needing a win tonight in Game 4 against Detroit, trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, coach Jon Cooper left the door open for potential tweaks to his lineup.

"Could there be changes? Sure," he said.

Cooper said he's liked how his team has played in the first three games. But there are a couple possibilities here. Defenseman Jason Garrison, out since March 28 with an upper body injury, said he'll be a "game-time" decision tonight. He hasn't been told if he's taking warm-ups.

"I feel comfortable on the ice," he said. "So it's not my decision as far as that goes. I'm preparing myself like I'm going to play. When I get the 'yes' or 'no,' I'll be ready."

If Garrison comes back, that'll make for a tough decision for Cooper on who to take out? With rookie Nikita Nesterov playing so well, leading the Lightning in playoff points, it'd be hard to scratch him. Another option is Andrej Sustr. …

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Charles Barkley gives Cooper/Lightning a shout-out

With the Lightning heading into a must-win Game 4 tonight in Detroit, trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, it got a shout-out from an unexpected fan: Charles Barkley.

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With the Lightning heading into a must-win Game 4 tonight in Detroit, trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, it got a shout-out from an unexpected fan: Charles Barkley.

With the Lightning heading into a must-win Game 4 tonight in Detroit, trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, it got a shout-out from an unexpected fan:

Charles Barkley.

Barkley, the former NBA star and current TNT analyst, wrapped up Wednesday's "Inside the NBA" show talking about hockey, and put this out here:

"Come on Tampa Bay. I haven't given up on you yet Coach Coop."

"Coop," of course, is Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who met Barkley last year while on a Lightning road trip in Los Angeles. The two spent a couple hours together, and sparked mutual respect.

"You have one perception of a guy on TV and I grew up watching him play," Cooper said. "But after spending a few hours with the guy, I'll be honest. He's one of the greatest guys I've ever met. I marveled how he is with other people, the stories he told, how genuine he was. This is just the perfect example. I haven't spoken to him in six months and for him to be following us and cheering for us, that shows the class of the guy. It's awesome."

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Lightning confident heading into Game 4: 'It's far from over'

“Guys realize the magnitude of the next game,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “Not much needs to be said.”

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“Guys realize the magnitude of the next game,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “Not much needs to be said.”

There’s no question the Red Wings played their best game of the series in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Lightning.

“We looked like a real hockey team,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.

But the Lightning felt it didn’t look - or play - like itself in a frustrating loss, which makes for easier adjustments heading into a must-win Game 4 Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. Tampa Bay trails the best-of-seven series 2-1.

“Guys realize the magnitude of the next game,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “Not much needs to be said.”

Said wing Ondrej Palat: “It’s far from over.”

The Lightning doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel, just get back to the type of style and effort that led it to win a club-record 50 games and dominate portions of Games 1 and 2. On Tuesday, it was a shell of itself, with All-Star center Tyler Johnson saying they were “lost” at times.

“We didn’t play our game at all,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to focus on ourselves. We shot ourselves in the foot the entire game. I think everybody is a little frustrated by the way we played. Our effort needs to be better. It’s about us.” …

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Cooper: Drouin will play in playoffs

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said today that Jonathan Drouin will get to play at some point during these playoffs.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said today that Jonathan Drouin will get to play at some point during these playoffs.

Lightning rookie Jonathan Drouin will be a healthy scratch for tonight's Game 3, the third straight game he's sat out.

But coach Jon Cooper said today that Drouin will get to play at some point during these playoffs. Cooper said he initially sat Drouin to ease him into an "eye-opening" experience, but now doesn't want to change a successful lineup.

"Am I going to sit here and say, 'Jonathan Drouin is not going to play in the playoffs? Not a chance," Cooper said. "He's going to get in at some point. I know learning from last year, I remember (Nikita) Kucherov, he opened the round against Montreal, and (Richard) Panik. It's an eye opening experience for them and sometimes, whether I'm right or wrong in this regard, it's better to take a step back and watch what's going on before you get in there."

Kucherov played in the first two games against Montreal as a rookie last season, scoring a goal in Game 1, but was a healthy scratch in Games 3 and 4. Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, was scratched four times during the regular season, but still racked up four goals and 28 assists in 70 games. …

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