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Top Games of the Jon Cooper Era Bracket Challenge

Written by Bryan Burns


Let's face it: We all could use a distraction right now.

Social distancing has got us in a funk. We're concerned about the health and well being of ourselves, our loved ones and people over the world. The daily grind of the coronavirus can be, well, a grind.

We're help to help.

We put together a knockout tournament featuring the best games of the Jon Cooper era for fans to vote on daily, a March Madness-style bracket that encompasses every game from Cooper's debut game as head coach on March 29, 2013 versus the New Jersey Devils to the game in Toronto March 10, two days before the 2019-20 NHL season paused.

Each day, we'll unveil a new set of games to vote for, and the most popular will make their way through our four regions -- named after Lightning greats Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman -- to the final four and the championship matchup until a winner is crowned.

We thought about making this a Top Games in Lightning History bracket, but the winner would obviously be Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final followed close behind by Game 6 of that Stanley Cup Final in Calgary. And who wants to spend time voting in a bracket where the champion could be crowned before it even started?

This bracket makes more sense as there's no obvious answer.

There are plenty of great memories, however.

Hope you all have as much fun voting for some of these instant classics as we did diggint through the archives and putting the bracket together.

Marty St. Louis Region

(1) 2015 ECQF Game 4…Tampa Bay 3, Detroit 2 (OT) - Tampa Bay went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 but almost didn't make it out of the first round. The Lightning were in deep trouble down two games to one in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Red Wings and trailing 2-0 late in Game 4 in Detroit. But Tyler Johnson went bar down on a rush from the left wing with less than six minutes remaining and Ondrej Palat tied the game a little over a minute later to force overtime, where Johnson finished a 3-on-1 break to level the series 2-2 and breathe new life into the Lightning.

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(8) Tampa Bay 5, Ottawa 1…Feb. 27, 2017 - Won't find too many games from the 2016-17 season in this bracket as it remains the only full season under head coach Jon Cooper the Lightning didn't make the playoffs, but Nikita Kucherov's performance late in the season against Ottawa can't be forgotten. Kucherov recorded a natural hat trick, scoring all three goals on the power play from the same spot and using the same shot in a rout of the Senators to keep the Bolts' faint playoff hopes alive.

 

 

(4) Tampa Bay 6, Boston 3…April 6, 2019 - Tampa Bay capped one of the most historic seasons in NHL history with a 6-3 victory at Boston in the season finale, the Bolts' 62nd win of the season, tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most all-time in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov recorded a goal and an assist to finish with 128 points, the most ever in the NHL by a Russian-born player. And it's a win over the Bruins in Boston. Can never get enough of those.

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(5) Tampa Bay 4, Arizona 1…March 18, 2019 - Tampa Bay clinched first place in the NHL standings to secure the franchise's first ever Presidents' Trophy following a 4-1 win over the Coyotes at AMALIE Arena. After falling behind 1-0 early, the Lightning tied the game 1-1 on a goal from Steven Stamkos, the 384th of his career, surpassing Vincent Lecavalier to become the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer.

 

 

(3) Tampa Bay 3, Philadelphia 2 OT…October 8, 2015 - Tampa Bay's 2015-16 season opener at AMALIE Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers made NHL history as the first to be decided in a 3-on-3 overtime under the League's revamped OT format. Jason Garrison etched his name in the NHL record book by scoring the game-winner 2:17 into the extra session. Also in the victory, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop became just the fifth goalie in the expansion era to stop two penalty shots in the same game.

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(6) Tampa Bay 5, Florida 4 OT…March 6, 2018 - FOX Sports Sun play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham's call of Brayden Point's overtime game-winner is reason alone to include this late-season victory over the in-state rival Florida Panthers. Point toe drags and snipes. "Unbelievable!"

 

 

(2) 2015 ECQF Game 7…Tampa Bay 2, Detroit 0 - In a winner-take-all Game 7 at AMALIE Arena, the Lightning outlasted the Red Wings 2-0 to capture the series on their run to the Stanley Cup Final. After two scoreless periods, Braydon Coburn became the unlikely hero - "It's Coburn!" NBC's Doc Emrick yelled -- with his knuckling shot from the right circle 3:58 into the third period to break the deadlock. Anton Stralman added an empty-net goal with 1:18 to go to seal the win and start the party in Tampa.

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(7) Tampa Bay 4, Carolina 3 (OT)…March 5, 2016 - Fresh off a four-game sweep of a road trip - the first sweep of a road trip of four or more games in franchise history - the Lightning returned to AMALIE Arena and rallied from 3-2 down to defeat the Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime and cap a nine-game win streak, at the time the longest in franchise history. Ondrej Palat netted a pair of goals, and Alex Killorn scored 4:17 into overtime to make history.

 

 

Vincent Lecavalier Region

(1) 2015 ECSF Game 3…Tampa Bay 2, Montreal 1 - Game 3 of Tampa Bay's Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Montreal seemed destined for overtime with the game tied 1-1 late. But with one final push, Ondrej Palat carried the puck into the offensive zone with six seconds left, passed to Victor Hedman in the left circle and Hedman wrapped a cross-crease pass around a sprawled-out Andrei Markov for Tyler Johnson to push into the open net with 1.1 seconds to go, as dramatic a finish to a game as has ever been seen in Lightning history

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(8) Tampa Bay 5, Dallas 4 OT…March 1, 2018 - Anthony Cirelli scored a goal in his NHL debut, and Cory Conacher sent the Lightning home victorious with his overtime game-winner against Ben Bishop - not the first time Conacher and Bishop would be tied together -- as the Bolts beat the Stars in Dallas.

 

(4) 2015 ECF Game 3…Tampa Bay 6, New York Rangers 5 (OT) - With the Eastern Conference Final tied 1-1, the Lightning took brief control of the series, winning a wild, back-and-forth affair 6-5 in overtime, Nikita Kucherov netting the winner 3:33 into the extra session. The Bolts rallied from an early 2-0 hole, scoring four consecutive goals to go in front. The Rangers answered quickly, future Bolt Ryan McDonagh tying the game 4-4 just over two minutes into the third period. Ondrej Palat and Dan Boyle traded goals to force overtime, where Kucherov took over, firing a shot from the high slot past Henrik Lundqvist to win it.

 

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(5) Tampa Bay 4, Colorado 3 (OT)…February 17, 2020 - The Lightning set a franchise record after collecting their 11th-consecutive win following a 4-3 overtime win at Colorado. The game-winner was vintage Nikita Kucherov. The Russian right winger stole the puck from Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon in his own end then outraced MacKinnon the other way for a breakaway, depositing the puck five-hole through the Avalanche's Pavel Francouz to silence the Pepsi Center crowd.

 

 

(3) 2016 ECF Game 5…Tampa Bay 4, Pittsburgh 3 (OT) - The Lightning took a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference Final series against the Penguins after winning in Pittsburgh in Game 5. Tampa Bay fell behind 2-0 but tied the game after Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov scored back-to-back goals in a 1:10 span. Pittsburgh went back in front 3-2, but Kucherov scored his second of the evening with 3:16 to go to force overtime. Just 53 seconds into the extra frame, Jason Garrison sent a puck on goal from the left dot, a shot that caromed off the backside of Tyler Johnson and redirected into the back of the net.

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(6) Tampa Bay 4, Boston 0…April 3, 2018 - In three previous meetings against division rival Boston during the 2017-18 regular season, the Bruins were clearly the better team, Jon Cooper saying it was like watching "men versus boys" in Boston's three wins. The fourth and final regular season meeting was decidedly different, however, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopping all 33 shots he faced in a dominating 4-0 win that gave the Lightning belief they could beat the Bruins, a belief that would serve them well in a second-round series win over Boston in the playoffs.

 

 

(2) 2015 Stanley Cup Final Game 3…Tampa Bay 3, Chicago 2 - After splitting a pair of games at AMALIE Arena to begin the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning took brief control of the series by winning Game 3 in Chicago by a 3-2 count. Ryan Callahan rifled a shot bar down from the right circle, Ondrej Palat jammed home a loose puck to level the score seconds after Chicago went in front and the unlikeliest of heroes, Cedric Paquette, scored with 3:11 to go to give Tampa Bay a two-games-to-one lead in the series. Unfortunately, the win would be the last for the Lightning, the Blackhawks winning three straight to win the Stanley Cup.

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(7) Tampa Bay 4, Nashville 3 (OT)…January 23, 2018 - Lightning backup goaltender Louis Domingue played out of his mind early in Nashville just to keep the game tied 2-2 after the first period. With the Lightning trailing 3-2 and time running out, Slater Koekkoek set up Steven Stamkos for a one-timer in the left circle with 2:12 remaining in regulation. In overtime, Vladislav Namestnikov stole a puck deep in the offensive zone and fed Yanni Gourde on the back post for Tampa Bay's first win in Nashville since February 7, 2008.

 

 

Steven Stamkos Region

(1) 2015 ECF Game 7…Tampa Bay 2, NY Rangers 0 - The Rangers had never lost a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden in the club's storied history, but those insurmountable odds mattered little to the Lightning. Tampa Bay and New York battled toe-to-toe through two scoreless periods, but just 1:54 into the third, Alex Killorn scored the biggest goal of his career, slipping an innocuous backhander five-hole through Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for what would prove to be the game-winner. Ondrej Palat tacked on an insurance goal midway through the third, and the Lightning were on their way to the second Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

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(8) Tampa Bay 3, Montreal 1…April 1, 2014 - Jon Cooper guided the Lightning to the playoffs in his first full season behind the bench. The Bolts' 3-1 win over Montreal in the seventh-to-last game of the 2013-14 regular season clinched their spot back in the postseason. All three Lightning goals came via special teams: Ryan Callahan tied the game 1-1 in the second period on a power play, Tyler Johnson netted the game-winner shorthanded midway through the third and Alex Killorn added a power-play, empty-net goal in the final minute to seal the Bolts' seventh playoff appearance in franchise history.

 

 

(4) Tampa Bay 2, Pittsburgh 1 OT, February 11, 2020 - Yanni Gourde suffered through a 35-game stretch without a goal but picked an opportune time to end his drought, scoring in overtime to cap an improbable 2-1 win in Pittsburgh. An already shorthanded Lightning team lost Nikita Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli to injury in the second period, yet somehow the Bolts were able to survive a Penguins' onslaught in the third despite the fatigue of playing the second half of a back-to-back and so few bodies available. This game will always be remembered for the extended overtime shift by Ondrej Palat, Mikhail Sergachev and Mitchell Stephens right before Gourde's game-winner, a shift that saw Palat and Sergachev bent over in exhaustion on the bench while their teammates celebrated the win.

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(5) Tampa Bay 5, New Jersey 4 (S/O)…March 29, 2013 - Jon Cooper tasted victory in his first game as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the head coach's debut win came in dramatic fashion. The Lightning trailed 4-2 in the third period, that is until Steven Stamkos scored at 7:11 of the final stanza and Alex Killorn forced overtime by tying the game with just 16 seconds remaining in regulation. After a scoreless overtime, Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman were both successful in their shootout attempts against Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur while Mathieu Garon denied both New Jersey shots.

 

 

(3) 2015 ECSF Game 1…Tampa Bay 2, Montreal 1 (2 OT) - After barely making it out of the first round against Detroit, the Lightning had an easier time getting past Montreal in the second round on their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. The Lightning pulled out a double overtime victory in Game 1 of the series after Nikita Kucherov snapped a shot from the slot past Carey Price in double overtime, a goal that left the Canadiens incensed after a perceived missed offside earlier on the scoring play. Offside or not, the Lightning took a 1-0 lead in the series en route to going up 3-0 and eventually moving past the Habs in six games.

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(6) Tampa Bay 6, Chicago 3…October 21, 2018 - The Lightning set franchise records for most shots in a game (55) and most shots in a period (33 in the second) in a dominating, early-season 6-3 victory over the Blackhawks in Chicago. The Bolts' 33 second-period shots were the most in NHL history for a single period since the League started officially tracking the stat in 1997-98. Six different Bolts scored in the contest. Tampa Bay netted four-consecutive goals to turn a tight 1-1 game into a runaway victory.

 

 

(2) 2016 ECSF Game 3…Tampa Bay 5, NY Islanders 4 (OT) - Tampa Bay was in danger of falling into a 2-1 hole in a best-of seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Islanders down 4-3 late in Brooklyn, but Jonathan Drouin, who was lucky to still be playing after getting destroyed by Thomas Hickey earlier in the game, found Nikita Kucherov alone in the slot with 39 seconds remaining for Kucherov to one-time past Thomas Greiss and tie the game late. Less than three minutes into overtime, Brian Boyle potted the game-winner after delivering his own brutal hit on Hickey at the blue line and continuing the play, taking a rebound off the back wall and beating Greiss at the post, Boyle famously getting beers dumped on him as he celebrated with the rest of the Bolts in the corner.

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(7) Tampa Bay 1, Colorado 0…October 24, 2018 - Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois had high praise for Ryan McDonagh following Tampa Bay's thrilling 1-0 win in Colorado early in a record-setting 2018-19 regular season, BriseBois saying he couldn't remember a defenseman ever playing a better game than the one McDonagh had in Denver. Nikita Kucherov scored the game's only goal at 6:24 of the third period on a power play, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made all 22 saves for his 13th career shutout. Following the win, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said, "probably as exciting a 0-0 game as there's been."

 

 

Victor Hedman Region

(1) 2018 ECSF Game 4…Tampa Bay 4, Boston 3 (OT) - Much like Game 3 of a 2018 second round playoff series against Boston, Game 4 was all Tampa Bay early, the Lightning scoring twice in the opening period to take a quick lead. But unlike Game 3 when the Bruins were never able to get back in the game, Boston had a response in Game 4, scoring three-consecutive goals to go up 3-2 by the midpoint of the third period. The Lightning were undeterred. Nikita Kucherov stole the puck from Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and fed Steven Stamkos for a game-tying one-timer. And in overtime, the Bolts took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series after Alex Killorn found room down the right wing and backhanded a pass across the crease for Dan Girardi to tip up and over Tuukka Rask.

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(8) Tampa Bay 4, Florida 3 (S/O)…October 18, 2016 - The Lightning looked to be on their way to their first loss of the 2016-17 season in game No. 3 trailing the cross-state rival Florida Panthers 3-2 late. Steven Stamkos, however, had other ideas. With the net empty and the Bolts scrambling to find the equalizer, Stamkos received the puck along the goal line. From a sharp angle, he blasted a one-timer, finding the only sliver of daylight past James Reimer at the opposite top corner with 5.5 seconds left for a dramatic tying goal. In the shootout, Brayden Point converted in the sixth round and Ben Bishop denied Aaron Ekblad to cap the come-from-behind win.

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(4) Tampa Bay 5, Boston 3…March 7, 2020 - FOX Sports Sun play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham called this an "old time hockey" game. Clearly, the Lightning and the Bruins don't like each other, and they got a chance to get out all that aggression in one whale of a regular season contest. Tampa Bay netted a pair of shorthanded goals on Boston's opening power play, and Cedric Paquette pushed the lead to 3-0 six minutes into the second period. The Bruins answered with two goals of their own as they tried to fight (literally) their way back into the game, but Alex Killorn's early third-period power-play goal proved to be the difference in a 5-3 win in Boston that put the rest of the NHL on notice the Lightning were not going to be a team that gets pushed around, even in hostile territory.

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(5) 2015 SCF Game 2…Tampa Bay 4, Chicago 3 - After falling in Game 1 at home, the Lightning earned their first win of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final following a 4-3 win over the Blackhawks in Tampa. The lasting image from this contest, however, is Bolts goalie Ben Bishop exiting the game twice in the third period and 20-year-old rookie Andrei Vasilevsky coming on in his place to stop all five shots he faced and become the first goalie to win his first career playoff game in relief in the Stanley Cup Final since 1928. While Bishop was in the locker room and Vasilevskiy was locking down the Lightning net, Jason Garrison broke a 3-3 tie on the power play with 11:11 to go to send the series to Chicago tied 1-1.

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(3) 2015 ECF Game 2…Tampa Bay 6, NY Rangers 2 - Down 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers, Tampa Bay leveled the series before heading back to the Bay Area by taking Game 2 in Madison Square Garden, Tyler Johnson recording the first and only playoff hat trick in Lightning history to power the Bolts to a runaway win. Johnson scored the first of his three goals in spectacular fashion, breaking up a Rangers two-man, power-play advantage in the defensive zone and outracing former Bolts legend Martin St. Louis the other way to push a shot past Henrik Lundqvist. Johnson scored later in the first period on a 4-on-3 power play to break a 1-1 tie and provided the game-winner early in the second period, jamming a puck home on a scramble in front for a 3-1 Lightning advantage, igniting the rout.

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(6) Tampa Bay 5, Washington 4 (OT)…March 20, 2019 - Andrei Vasilevskiy set a Lightning franchise record for saves after stopping 54 shots in Tampa Bay's 5-4 overtime win in D.C. against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Nikita Kucherov scored a pair of power-play goals to pace the Lightning offensively, and Victor Hedman led a rush into the zone in overtime, holding the puck before making a beeline toward the net and depositing a backhander past Braden Holtby to finish the Caps, the defenseman joking after the game he "blacked out" while looking over his options before calling his own number.

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(2) 2018 ECF Game 5…Tampa Bay 3, Washington 2 - Tampa Bay took its first lead in the Eastern Conference Final against Washington and earned its third-consecutive victory after downing the Caps 3-2 on home ice, the first time the home team won in the series. Cedric Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the contest in front of a delirious AMALIE Arena crowd. Ondrej Palat wristed a shot from the top of the circles later in the first to put the Bolts up 2-0. Ryan Callahan followed up Anton Stralman's saved shot 33 seconds into the second period for a 3-0 Lightning lead and a goal that would hold up as the game-winner. Unfortunately, Callahan's goal would be the last time the Lightning scored in 2017-18.

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(7) Tampa Bay 7, Philadelphia 6 (S/O)…March 3, 2018 - The Lightning exited the first period down 3-1 to the Flyers. Then they tied the game up midway through the second. Philadelphia went back in front 5-3 early in the third. The Bolts scored three-consecutive goals to take their first lead 6-5 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Philly's Claude Giroux scored with 2:53 to go to force overtime. After neither team could find the back of the net in the extra session, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos were successful on their shootout attempts to cap a wild, back-and-forth game against the Flyers.