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Cooper confident Lightning can extend series

by James Murphy

MONTREAL -- As Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos fielded questions from a large media scrum outside the Lightning dressing room after practice at Bell Centre on Monday, his coach, Jon Cooper, made his way to the front of the scrum without Stamkos noticing him.

"Any questions from the rookie reporter?" the reporter next to Cooper asked.

"How you feeling today?" Cooper asked using a water bottle as a mic.

"Ah, I feel better than I did yesterday. I'll probably be a game-time decision," Stamkos said, laughing.

Another reporter then asked, "How do you think the coach has done in this series?"

"I'd like to get out there a little more. I'm not complaining. We'll see," Stamkos said with a smile.

This was just another example of how Cooper, a potential Jack Adams Award candidate, is keeping things loose and positive despite his team heading into Game 4 on Tuesday down 3-0 in their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

Following Tampa Bay's 3-2 loss in Game 3, Cooper was adamant his team had played their best game of the series and that if a couple of breaks had gone their way they might not be facing elimination in Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CBC, RDS, FS-F).

On Monday, Cooper maintained that mantra as he returned to the other side of the scrum and entertained questions from the media.

"I'm not going to throw out all the clichés and 'let's win one for the Gipper' and all those little kinds of things," Cooper replied when asked what he will tell his team prior to Game 4. "The reality is you can't win a series in one game. You can just help your cause a little bit. All I know is that I felt we played well enough to win [Game 3]; we just didn't win the game.

"If we play with the passion and determination we played with (in Game 3), I truly believe there's really not much more wrong that can go against us. At some point karma's going to come around and we just need it for one night. All of a sudden you just gotta win one and you win that one and everybody's back on a plane. Who knows what happens after that?"

Lightning defenseman Matt Carle was part of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers team that came back from a 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to beat the Boston Bruins. Cooper was asked if he and his teammates can use Carle's experience, and pointed out the way his players are handling their current situation will likely be more helpful.

"I'm sure it helps him, but I don't know about the other 19 guys that will play [Tuesday] night," Cooper said. "The one thing I really appreciate about our team is nobody's hanging their head; nobody's feeling sorry for themselves and nobody's kicking the can saying why me? It's pretty cool going into that locker room, and for a bunch of young guys like that … I hear, 'I wish we were playing tonight,' and when you hear that come out of a bunch of the players' mouths, it's a pretty good room to be a part of. So I'm looking forward to [Tuesday]."

As Cooper pointed out, not only is his team full of young players getting their first taste of the playoffs, but it's his first time through as well. He was asked what he has been able to take from the first three games of the postseason.

"I'm so proud and privileged to be in this situation of making the playoffs; I'm sick to my stomach that we're down 0-3, but you have to embrace the challenge," Cooper said. "There's so many different things. We did it to ourselves; we fell down 0-2 at home. But who knows? You get a break here and there, and I think about the overtime. Whether we deserved or not to get into that overtime, we were there and some of the chances we had to win that game in overtime, all of a sudden one break goes your way and who knows what happens in Game 2? Everybody knows what happened last night. Maybe we're up 2-1. Maybe we're up 3-0."

As it stands, the Lightning just want to prolong the season and send the series back to Tampa Bay Times Forum for a Game 5 on Thursday.

"But that it happens so fast, and that's why you really can't let the playoffs sneak up on you," Cooper said. "We've been prepared and we're ready, but that's the one thing, I just can't believe how fast everything goes. But the thing is, we're still playing a hockey game tomorrow night and it hasn't been that fast yet. Hopefully we can keep this ride going."

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