Don't take your foot off the gas, Cooper tells his team
The Lightning has secured its first playoff spot since 2011 and only its second since 2007, and it's next two games are against the Flames (tonight) and the Stars (on Saturday), two Western Conference teams which as coach Jon Cooper said, "really have no bearing on us in the standings."
But Cooper on Wednesday and today has been reminding his players not to let down. There's plenty to play for, most notably home ice in the first round of the playoffs. But Cooper also wants to make sure his team does not slide back into a wild card playoff position (The Red Wings are charging) and he wants his team playing on all cylinders once the playoffs start, most likely, at this point, against the Canadiens.
Along those lines, Ben Bishop plays his 61st game tonight.
"We want to beat Calgary," Cooper said. "We don't care who we're playing, whether it's Calgary, Boston or Pittsburgh."
"We need our guys to be in a playoff mind-set," Cooper added. "We don't have a team where we can just throw our sticks into the middle of the ice and say, 'Okay, we're here, save it for the last five minutes and pull the game out.' We have to play the whole game or we'll be knocked out of the building."
AS for securing home ice advantage in the first round, Cooper said it is not that important until you get to Game 7.
"What if you land in a Game 7. You want that at home or on the road?" Cooper said. "You have a chance to make sure that game is at home. Who knows if you're going to go to a seven-game series, but if you do I'd rather be right here (at the Tampa Bay Times Forum). We've got to play this one out to the end, and it starts tonight."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Defenseman Mike Kostka, who sustained a concussion from the bad hit Tuesday by Montreal's Douglas Murray, said Murray texted him right after the game to apologize. Kostka called it "a classy move." He also said that he is doing pretty well, all things considered. He said he has no recollection of the hit, but said he has watched it on video. "I wanted to see if there was anything I could have done differently not to put myself in that situation," said Kostka, who was carrying the puck when Murray got him with an elbow to the head. "I don't think it was malicious or anything like that," Kostka said. "Needless to say, it was still a bad hit." ... Kostka said there is no way to completely remove such hits from the game. "It's a fast-paced game," he said. "I watched the clip (of his hit). It happened so quickly. When you're moving that quickly, and it's an inch her eor an inch there, I mean, those things are going to happen. I know the league is doing everything it can to crack down on it. You just have to trust they continue to do that." ... With Kostka out of the lineup, Mark Barberio gets back in and will be paired with Eric Brewer. "You don't want to see anyone get hurt, especially with the weay Kostka got hurt," Barberio said. "But that's why we have extra guys in practice ready to go in case there is an injury, so they can step in and make a seamless transition." Barberio was very good in his last game, Tuesday against the Red Wings, with three shots on goal and two scoring chances. "I want to keep my speed up," he said. "I want to move fast. I want to move the puck up fast and maybe get a bit of offense going." ... Based on the morning skate, it seems as if defenseman Keith AUlie and forwards Cody Kunyk, Richard Panik and Tom Pyatt will be scratched. ... Former Lightning Karri Ramo gets the start in net for the Flames. Ramo faced Tampa Bay in Calgary earlier this season, a 2-0 loss. This is his first game back in Tampa. ... The Lightning's power play is 13-for-49 (26.5 percent) in its past 11 games. ... Tampa Bay has points in eight straight home games (5-0-3).