Lightning catch breath after whirlwind week
Jon Cooper said he finally got to exhale Easter Sunday, with the team’s off-day giving him a chance to reflect on his whirlwind first week as Lightning coach.
Cooper ate breakfast outside, and started trying to respond to the hundreds of text messages he received since taking over March 25 for fired coach Guy Boucher.
“When I finally walked inside, I was burnt,” Cooper said, laughing. “So I had to stay the rest of the day inside because I’m like, 'Oh man, my head hurts.’ But it was a good hurt. It was great to be alone for a little while and gather my thoughts, take a breath, and then prepare for what’s ahead of us.”
Players felt similar relief, having been through an emotional and busy seven days that included Boucher’s departure, Cooper’s arrival and a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout win over the Devils on Friday in Cooper’s NHL debut.
After a spirited Saturday practice and spending the holiday with family, the Lightning (15-18-1) believes it is gathering momentum, taking a two-game winning streak into tonight’s game against the last-place Panthers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Cooper told his team not to look at the standings, but with the Lightning entering Monday four points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 14 games left, he likes the “inner fire” in his players.
“You look at the standings, we’re right there,” center Steven Stamkos said. “You put a streak together, a lot of the teams have less games left than we do, so we’ve got to take advantage of the games in hand that we have. With this schedule, you’re playing every team in the East, you’re going to get points, you’re going to climb. That’s the mentality we have to have.”
Among the Lightning roster moves today, it recalled Mike Angelidis and reassigned Dana Tyrell to Syracuse of the AHL.
Other stuff from today's practice: Cooper said he's "leaning" towards having G Mathieu Garon in net Tuesday against the Panthers. Though Cooper acknowledged Garon wasn't as sharp as he'd like Friday, he stepped up in the shootout in the 5-4 win.... Cooper had more praise of rookie D Andrej Sustr, who looked good in his NHL debut Friday and will only get better when he grows into his 6-foot-8 frame. "I thought he was great," Cooper said. "Did he make mistakes? He did. But he had great instincts.. And if that's his bottom, I can hardly wait to see where the top is going to be." G Anders Lindback (ankle) skated on his own for the first time Monday, and could be returning "soon," Cooper said. C Vinny Lecavalier (foot) and Ryan Malone (lower body) and Pierre-Cedric Labrie also skated on their own, and are making progress.