The Tampa Bay Lightning will have nearly their full complement of players when they open the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight at Amalie Arena against the Detroit Red Wings.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said defensemen Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr and forward Alex Killorn are all available to play tonight. Only Jason Garrison (upper-body injury) has been ruled out.
“Everybody’s ready,” Cooper said. “Only guy that’s not ready to go would probably be Garrison, but everybody else, for the most part, I’m not sitting here saying everybody’s 100 percent, but they would be ready.”
Coburn has played in just four games with the Lightning since coming over from Philadelphia in a trade deadline-day deal. His last appearance was March 10 at Montreal. He has two points (both assists) with the Lightning this season.
Sustr missed the final six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. Killorn (undisclosed injury) was out the last three games.
“It’s really nice to get some healthy guys,” Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said. “They haven’t played in a while so it might take a little bit to get their legs underneath them, but to have those guys back this time of year is important.”
BISHOP IN NET
Bishop will make his first-ever Stanley Cup Playoffs start tonight in Game 1. Bishop was on track to be the Bolts’ starter in last season’s opening round series against the Montreal Canadiens but injured his elbow in the final week of the regular season and missed all four games.
Bishop said his approach tonight remains the same it has all season. He doesn’t differentiate between a preseason, regular season or postseason game.
“You still got to go out there and stop the puck,” he said. “There really is no big difference for me.”
Asked whether he buys Bishop’s explanation, Cooper said he’ll defer to his starting goalie.
“Well he’s our goaltender, so I am going to buy it,” Cooper joked. “If (Detroit goalie Petr) Mrazek said it, I’d say ‘no.’ I think there’s something to that because he’s not getting line matched, he’s not doing any of that kind of stuff, he’s just sitting there stopping pucks. The power play is the same. He’s going to get the same looks, so there is a little bit of truth to that. Now, will the crease be crowded a little bit more, will guys be going to the net a little bit harder? I would think so. That’s just the nature of the beast, but…there is a bit of truth to that that all he has to really do is worry about keeping the puck out of the net.”
Bishop’s first pro playoff experience came as a member of the Texas Tornado in the North American Hockey League in 2004-05. Bishop went 9-2 in 11 games to lead the Tornado to their second-straight Robertson Cup (league title).
Their opponent in the first round? The Jon Cooper-coached Texarkana Bandits.
Bishop’s Tornado swept the Bandits in four games.
“I think in my junior career, that was my first best-of-seven series I’d been a part of,” Cooper said. “It’s irony because my first one in the NHL I got swept as well. But the second ones have always worked out, so hopefully that carries on.”
Lightning center Brian Boyle said the postseason is the time of year when players can make a career out of playing well.
The Lightning, he said, need to embrace the moment.
“It’s an opportunity,” said Boyle. “You get the opportunity to play in the playoffs, you see, we haven’t had this many cameras in here all year [pointing around the Lightning locker room] and we haven’t started yet. It’s a great opportunity we’re lucky and fortunate for it. We’ve worked really hard for it. We should be comfortable knowing we deserve to be here, but it’s also another opportunity where we’ve got to realize the importance of it and fragility of it.”
As a playoff veteran who helped the New York Rangers advance to the Stanley Cup Final last season and has skated in 58 total postseason games, Boyle said he doesn’t gather the less playoff-experienced Bolts around his stall to tell tales about the postseason, but rather he periodically tries to impart just how lucky they are to be in the current situation.
“It’s a little more like, ‘Hey, who knows when we get another chance?’ he said. “…You don’t know, you just don’t. You see teams that had good runs last year didn’t make the playoffs this year. Nothing’s a given, and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get.”