Lightning: No such things as too many defensemen

Lightning currently have nine on the roster, which coach Jon Cooper calls a luxury
The Lightning does not mind playing in overtime if it celebrates like this at the end. (Associated Press)
The Lightning does not mind playing in overtime if it celebrates like this at the end. (Associated Press)
Published March 11, 2018|Updated March 12, 2018

TAMPA — The Lightning has nine defensemen on its roster, which is more than most teams carry. But coach Jon Cooper does not see that as an excess.

"It's a luxury," Cooper said before Saturday's 3-2 shootout win against the Canadiens.

He referenced the Lightning's 2015 Eastern Conference final against the Rangers, in which then-Rangers and now Lightning defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi played hurt.

McDonagh played the final three games of the seven-game series with a broken right foot. Girardi needed surgery on his left ankle after the series, won by the Lightning.

"McDonagh was playing on one leg and Girardi was playing on one leg because they didn't have enough defensemen," Cooper said. "When one guy is hurt, other guys have to play. It's hard for guys to sit out, but ultimately with this team, our goal is to make a run in the playoffs, and you need to have depth. … It's those depth guys (who) will help you."

McDonagh made his Lightning debut Saturday after being acquired while hurt at the trade deadline, and he was paired with Girardi, reuniting the top defensive line from their days in New York. Cooper said that might not be permanent.

"Right now you're just trying to find who plays well together and where guys fit," Cooper said. "It's just good to get (McDonagh) in a situation where there's (13) games left. It's not a situation where (McDonagh's) playing two and then it's the playoffs. We're happy with that."

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Finding a way

Saturday was the seventh time in the past eight games the Lightning went beyond regulation. It has won all but one of those games. Though not ideal, Cooper is pleased with the outcomes of those games.

"You have to give credit to the guys. They've found a way to get points, and that's what you have to do," he said. "What I liked (Saturday), we were down going in to the third and we won the third."

Contact Roger Mooney at Follow @RogerMooney50.