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Round 2

Lightning coach, facing Bruins in playoffs, has sentimental ties to them

Cooper, one win from eliminating Boston, was big fan of Orr, Bourque as kid

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TAMPA -- Jon Cooper cherishes his battered 1974 Bobby Orr hockey card, collected when he was a boy, later signed in ballpoint pen in the mid-1980s by the legendary Boston Bruins defenseman in Vancouver and preserved by the Tampa Bay Lightning coach since that day in a small gold frame.


[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Bruins series coverage]


After Orr moved on from the Bruins, signing with the Chicago Black Hawks (then two words) in 1976, Cooper's affection as a fan transitioned to Ray Bourque, another Hall of Fame defenseman, who excelled in Boston's black and gold from 1979-2000.

Turn the clock ahead to this week, and there was Cooper behind the Lightning bench at TD Garden in Boston, Tampa Bay defeating the Bruins 4-1 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Wednesday. In a suite during the game, shown on the scoreboard to roaring fans, was Orr with Boston Red Sox pitching icon Pedro Martinez, the latter enthusiastically waving a Bruins rally towel to whip up the crowd.

And then during Game 4 on Friday, a 4-3 overtime victory, Bourque was shown doing likewise with retired linebacker Tedy Bruschi, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots.

For Cooper, who grew up a Bruins fan in Prince George, British Columbia, it obviously was business before fan worship. With two of his heroes in the building, the coach guided the Lightning to two wins on Boston ice and to within one victory of reaching the conference final. Tampa Bay leads the series 3-1 entering Game 5 at Amalie Arena here Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVAS).

The Bruins will need all the long-distance karma they can get from Orr and Bourque on Sunday. The Lightning have won all five previous Stanley Cup Playoff series they've led 3-1; the Bruins are 0-for-23 when they've trailed 3-1.

Video: Bobby Orr revolutionized defensive position

Of course, the Lightning would like nothing better than to eliminate the Bruins on Sunday and take advantage of the rest that is so vital as the playoffs progress.

"We had all that rest before we played the Bruins (one week after having defeated the New Jersey Devils in the first round), then we lost Game 1 and now we're sitting here and we're up 3-1," Cooper, 50, said Saturday, Tampa Bay's charter having just touched down from Boston. "Did the rest come into play for us and is Boston tired? I don't know. Regardless how it goes, you take the rest any day. Just to not have to get on the plane, not have to go a hotel … it can be draining on you.

"Don't get me wrong, both teams are doing it. But if you can close out a series and watch your future opponent have to go through the wars and the mental stress that you have to overcome during these games … that's just as important as the physical beating that you take in the series. I just can't say enough how much it helps being able to rest your mind."

This is Cooper's 10th NHL playoff series since 2013-14, all with Tampa Bay, and his first against Boston. He has a series record of 6-3, taking the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, a six-game loss to Chicago.

"One thing as a coach is you try to put the guys in the best position to succeed," he said, a more seasoned coach now than he was in 2015, that season his second taste of NHL playoff action; the Lightning were swept in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens in 2014.

"But this game is all about the players and how they compete, how they react to situations. They're the ones doing all the battling. Those guys do all the work. I just stand there and chew gum."

Two huge wins in Boston, in front of Orr and Bourque, have the Lightning in the driver's seat.

Video: Ray Bourque capped career with dramatic Cup in 2001

"I still haven't met Bobby since he signed that card for me at a Vancouver Canucks game at Pacific Coliseum all those years ago, but I did see him on the scoreboard in Game 3," Cooper said. "And Ray Bourque is a guy I've never met."

Though he has come close, he recalled, laughing as he cobbled together the details of a 2012 Calder Cup playoff game when he was coaching the Norfolk of the American Hockey League. It won the AHL championship after having set the league on fire during the regular season, establishing a North American professional hockey record with 28 consecutive wins.

Cooper recalled Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals being played in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the circus having thrown Connecticut out of its rink at XL Center in Hartford.

"The place was completely empty, maybe 200 in the arena," he said of Norfolk's 4-0 win. "There was one suite occupied and I think it might have been Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Ray Bourque in it."

It's likely that Orr and Bourque will have their fingers crossed for their Bruins on Sunday. And no, Cooper said, laughing again, he's not pulling for the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals series to go the punishing seven-game limit.

"I'm just cheering for us," he said. "You look at this series and you're going to say it's 3-1 Tampa, but these games could have gone either way. We just have to stay the course in what we've been doing, what's working for us, and hopefully we can close it out."


Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Coverage

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