Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the Bolts’ lineup for Game 3 will remain the same as it has for Games 1 and 2.
Meaning, for a third-straight game, talented rookie forward Jonathan Drouin will sit and watch along with defenseman Mark Barberio as the Lightning take on Detroit with the First Round series moving to Joe Louis Arena.
Cooper said Drouin’s time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will come, just not yet with the Lightning playing well and Cooper not wanting to fix what isn’t broke.
“We’ve played two pretty solid games,” Cooper said. “I know we’d like to be up 2-0. It’s 1-1 but hard to disrupt the apple cart right now, and we feel like we’ve got a pretty good thing going. But we’re going to need him, and, at some point, he’s going to come in and I think we’re going to need everything that he has because he’s a really talented, skilled player.”
Cooper pointed to players like Nikita Kucherov and former Bolt Richard Panik last year, players who were productive for the Lightning during the regular season but had an “eye-opening experience” in last season’s First Round playoff series versus Montreal.
Drawing from that situation, Cooper wants to ease Drouin into the postseason rather than throw him into the fire.
“It’s better to take a step back and watch what’s going on before you get in there,” Cooper said. “He’s an important player for us. To watch his growth for a 19-year-old kid to come in and do what he’s done for us, I’ve really watched him grow as a player.”
Drouin is disappointed not to be in the lineup but understands the situation with the team playing well currently. When his number is called, however, he says he’s going to make an impact.
“I’ll be ready when I get a chance,” he said. “I’m still happy to be here.”
Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison will be scratched for a third-straight playoff game and ninth consecutive time since getting checked hard into the boards by Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader on March 28.
Cooper wouldn’t commit to saying Garrison will play sometime this week but did say the longer the series continues, the better chance Garrison will get in at some point.
“I hope to have him back at some point in the series,” Cooper said.
Garrison has been ramping up the contact, trying to mimic game-like situations during practice sessions. On Tuesday, he stayed out on the ice after most of his teammates had returned to the locker room to get more work in with Barberio.
“I feel like every day I’m getting stronger,” Garrison said. “I just want to make sure that I’m at the point where I’m able to be physical out there and not worry about it. I think I’m close to that, I’m just not quite there.”
If you had Tampa Bay defenseman Nikita Nesterov as the team’s leading scorer through the first two playoff games, head to your nearest convenience store and buy a lottery ticket.
Surprisingly, Nesterov has been a major offensive contributor for the Lightning – in addition to his stellar play on the blue line -- scoring a goal and adding two assists for a team-high three points through two games.
Cooper said Nesterov’s ability to quarterback the power play has been a welcome addition for the up-and-down special teams unit.
“I think he’s brought a whole new dimension to our power play,” Cooper said. “He’s really confident with the puck. There’s a kid that’s, if he’s going to make a mistake, he’s trying to make a play. He’s not making a mistake because he’s sitting back. He’s found out he can skate in the league. He can skate with everybody here. He’s not afraid to work hard, and his confidence keeps growing with every game he plays.”
All-Star center Tyler Johnson said Nesterov gives the power play a “hard shot” that has a habit of finding its way through traffic.
“When you first come up from the AHL, it’s a little tough doing the things that you normally do because you don’t want to make a mistake or you don’t want to mess up,” Johnson said. “He’s out there playing just the way he normally plays, which is unbelievable hockey. He’s a great hockey player and he’s been helping us out quite a bit.”
When Garrison returns to the lineup, Cooper said someone from the defensive group that probably doesn’t deserve to sit will have to come out to make room.
“It’s one of those decisions that are tough as a coach but you love to have them because (Nesterov’s) put himself in the lineup,” Cooper said. “We’ve been really happy with everything he’s done in all three zones and especially with our power play.”