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Lightning's Cooper not worrying about matching lines

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper is not ready to tip his hand on how he plans to handle situations when Chicago Blackhawks forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are on the ice together in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Cooper expects Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to mix up his lines frequently during the best-of-7 series and hopes to have a plan for each change he makes.

"We'll just have to see how things go, how things start," Cooper said. "I can't predict what he's going to do. I'm fairly certain the lineup he starts with won't be the lineup he finishes with. He'll move things around."

Cooper said the fact the teams aren't very familiar with each other could turn Game 1 into somewhat of a chess match. Tampa Bay went 1-0-1 in the regular season series, a 3-2 shootout loss at the United Center on Nov. 11 and a 4-0 win at Amalie Arena on Feb. 27.

"Teams that haven't played teams that often, Eastern Conference, Western Conference, you play each other twice a year," Cooper said. "I don't think they get fired up to play the Tampa Bay Lightning the way they get fired up to play the St. Louis Blues in the regular season."

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said he expects Cooper to keep much of the same game plan he has when Tampa Bay has faced other talented players. Stamkos said it's important for the Lightning not to think about the matchups but to make sure they do their job on the ice.

"[Cooper] is a coach where he wants guys to rise to the occasion, and if you're up against a certain line, just be better than them," Stamkos said. "There's certain times of the game where you want certain matchups, maybe for faceoff purposes, but he's the kind of guy that wants you to be better than who you are on the ice with."

The Lightning have faced several tough lines throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. New York Rangers forward Derick Brassard lit up the Lightning for a hat trick and two assists in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, but a few adjustments on the defense shut his line down in Game 7.

And whether it's Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings in the first round or Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, the Lightning have eventually figured out how to contain tough opposing lines.

"Sometimes we got to be best on best," Cooper said. "You're not going to pull a rabbit out of your hat and say we have some magic scheme. Just be better than the next guy. That's what you have to do. You have to challenge yourself. And Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two of the best players this League has seen in a long time. But we feel Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, we go down our list and think, 'Maybe we're not too bad ourselves.' Let's prove to everybody you can play against these guys.

"In saying that, they'll probably see a high dose of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman."

Tampa Bay will likely stick with its alignment of 11 forwards and seven defensemen throughout the series. The Lightning are 8-3 with that lineup during the playoffs and defenseman Matthew Carle said it gets more comfortable every time they use it.

"It's one of those things where we've done it, we've won it, we've stuck with it," Carle said. "[Nikita Nesterov] is a great offensive guy and he can get time on the power play. It allows our forwards to get a little more ice time as well."

Carle said he was less concerned with the Blackhawks playing Kane and Toews together as long as the Lightning stuck to the system that has gotten them to this point.

"I guess we'll see how the chips fall and if they keep those guys together or not," Carle said. "We feel like if we're playing the right way teams will have to react to us."

Here are the projected lineups:


Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane

Bryan BickellBrad RichardsMarian Hossa

Patrick SharpAntoine VermetteTeuvo Teravainen

Andrew DesjardinsMarcus KrugerAndrew Shaw

Duncan KeithNiklas Hjalmarsson

Kyle CumiskeyBrent Seabrook

Johnny OduyaDavid Rundblad

Corey Crawford

Scott Darling

Scratched: Daniel Carcillo, Ville Pokka, Kris Versteeg, Phillip Danault, Ryan Hartman, Joakim Nordstrom, Viktor Svedberg, Kimmo Timonen, Trevor van Riemsdyk

Injured: none


Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

J.T. Brown - Brian Boyle - Ryan Callahan

Cedric Paquette - Brenden Morrow

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Jason Garrison

Matthew Carle - Andrej Sustr

Nikita Nesterov

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: Mark Barberio, Jonathan Drouin, Jonathan Marchessault, Vladislav Namestnikov

Injured: none

Status report: The Lightning had about 15 players participate in the optional morning skate Wednesday. Bishop, Johnson, Boyle and Killorn were among those that decided to sit out.

Who's hot: Palat scored a goal in the 2-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers and had four goals and three assists in the series. Bishop had 22 saves in Game 7 against the Rangers and two shutouts in the series.

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