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Five Questions with Jon Cooper

Lightning coach looks ahead to second round, reflects on 'angry' series against Red Wings

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper:

The waiting can be both the hardest part and the busiest part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a coaching staff. Jon Cooper has had time to figure that out since his Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Second Round with a 1-0 win against the Detroit Red Wings last Thursday.

Cooper, whose team eliminated the Red Wings in five games, watched Games 5 and 6 of the series between the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders before finding out who he and his staff had to get ready for in the second round.

The Lightning face the Islanders, but they would have been just as prepared for the Panthers. That's how it goes at this time of the year for coaches.

"You're only watching one series, but you're watching two teams, so we assigned each team to specific coaches and there's a lot of breakdown that goes into it," Cooper said. "You're just doubling the work, preparing for two teams." 

All that changed Monday morning, when Cooper and his assistants -- Rick Bowness, Steve Thomas, Brad Lauer, Frantz Jean and Nigel Kirwan -- showed up for work ready to dive into the Islanders.

Video: DET@TBL, Gm5: Callahan finds Killorn for lead in 3rd

"You walk over to the one coach and basically say, 'Thanks for nothing,'" Cooper said, laughing." The other guy, you're like, 'Hey, good work.'"

Cooper was kind of kidding, kind of not.

"It was such a close series," he said. "It wasn't one of those series where you're like, 'Put about 75 percent of your effort into this team,' because that was split right down the middle. Those games were so close, they were really evenly matched teams."

The preparation for the Islanders isn't too difficult for Cooper and his staff. They played New York twice in the final two and a half weeks of the season. Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss was in net for each game. He'll start Game 1 too.

The Lightning defeated Greiss and the Islanders 7-4 at Amalie Arena on March 25; they lost to New York 5-2 at Barclays Center on April 4.

"There's nothing they really do that is sneaking up on us and there is nothing we do that is sneaking up on the Islanders," Cooper said. "It's about making sure we have all our ducks in a row. Are we missing anything? We want to be prepared so there are no excuses."

Cooper talked more about the upcoming series against the Islanders and looked back a bit at the series against the Red Wings in a phone conversation during a break in his prep work Monday.

Here are Five Questions with … Jon Cooper:

What did you see from the Islanders? What's your breakdown and what do you expect, because, like you said, it was really close but the Islanders, well, they have John Tavares?

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm6: Tavares ties it in 3rd, wins it in 2OT

"And that was it. The Islanders' best player was their best player. I look at that series and it wasn't that the Florida Panthers got beat; John Tavares rose to the occasion in one play and scored what I thought was a dynamic goal. It was a big-time skill play and ultimately in these, when the games are that close, it comes down to who makes the last play. Tavares made the last play and that's why they're moving on. What's the old saying, you're not going to stop him, you can just hope to contain him? That's somebody we have to contain, just try to limit the chances he gets in a game. But as we've seen from that team, they're four lines deep and they play a full 200-foot game. They can play the game any way you want. They can play a skill game. They can play a hitting game. That's why that series with Florida was so good, because both those teams can do that. They're going to be a tough matchup."

You guys are coming off a physical, nasty series, far more physical and nasty than I think people imagined with the skill of the Red Wings and Lightning. Did the physicality in that series surprise you at all? Did the nastiness surprise you in that series? And did your team need the long break to get over it?

"We have the ability to play that type of game; it's not one we play often. It was a physical series, but it was kind of an angry series. There was a little nastiness to it. I think that's a product of being in the same division, met in the playoffs the year before with a seven-game series, a whole bunch of familiarity. Then you also think that with these two organizations, the young guys met for the Calder Cup a few years ago and there's a lot of familiarity between management, coaches. I think it's a unique rivalry in the NHL with the familiarity between the two teams and the management/coaching structure. If people were picking the eight series and which one would be the most penalized, I'm not sure people were lining up to pick our series, but that was two teams that wanted to win, and, when that happens, that's sometimes going to be the result.

"And the rest was big for us, there's no question. There's always that debate, would you rather keep playing, is the rest going to make you stale? For us, we definitely needed the rest. We had a sickness whipping through the team, but it's not just the physical nature, the bumps and the bruises, it's the mental rest. It's such a grind and anytime you can get a few days to kind of just get away and not have to think about hockey, I think it's really good. We practiced [Sunday] and I could tell, after giving the guys a couple days off they were flying around the ice. That was good to see."

Valtteri Filppula played more than 20 minutes per game in the series against Detroit. He's huge on the power play, huge on the penalty kill. He's clearly valuable to your team, but can you describe why he is and what he does in the situations you put him in that makes him valuable?

Video: TBL@NJD: Paquette's one-timer puts Bolts back on top

"He's kind of one of those quiet, unsung heroes. He's the guy that is out there taking the big faceoffs for us. He's really molded into a really good penalty killer with Ryan Callahan. Those two have been outstanding together, but he has the skill too, so he can go out there on the power play and do that for you. More often than not, he's squaring off against guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. He doesn't get easy minutes at 5-on-5 either. He's out there against formative lines. He doesn't score a ton of goals so people may overlook him, but he's not overlooked by us because we count on him in so many big situations. He's drawn a lot of big assignments, so yeah, there's a good chance Tavares will see a little bit of him."

Your team faced Thomas Greiss twice in the later stages of the regular season, and you even scored six goals on him in a home game. Is that enough to get the book on him that you need?

"The one at home we kind of had a hot week, scored a bunch against Detroit and a bunch against the Islanders. The next game he shut us down (April 4). That's kind of the ebbs and flows of the regular season. How were the Islanders playing when they came to us? They had been traveling around. When we went up there, we'd been at home for six straight and they kind of handled us in Brooklyn. There's a reason he's in the League, because he deserves to be in the League, and what he's doing now is he's really got the confidence of his team. They're really playing outstanding in front of him, and, when they do break down, he's making the big saves for them. No bigger than the penalty shot; that's the kid rising to the occasion. They've found their niche together. He's their guy, and good for him."

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm6: Greiss lays out, stifles the shot

The penalty kill in general has been good all season, and it was excellent against the Red Wings, going 24-for-25. Why?

"I think your penalty kill a lot of times depends on how well your goaltender is playing, he's the last line of defense. But for us against Detroit, the guys were just blocking shots. That's a big thing to help your goaltender out. They were not afraid to get into lanes. When there was a breakdown by the power play, we were getting it down 200 feet. The guys were all just in unison. When you are out-willing the power play, and I think that's what they were doing, things will work out for you. Fortunately, it was working out for us in that series."

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