Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s affability hasn’t been lost to the pressure his team is facing.
The Lightning has lost consecutive games after charging out to a 3-0 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens, and the reality of going back to a raucous Bell Centre for Game 7 is staring them in the face ahead of Game 6.
“This is why I coach,” said Cooper. “The competitive aspect and going in and trying to draw up a plan to get a group of guys together to go in and beat another team excites the hell out of me.”
Suppressing his excitement, Cooper’s serious side presented itself as he shifted the focus of his message to the emotion he hopes the Tampa Bay Lightning will summon for Game 6.
“There was a difference when we lost Game 5; it was a genuine pissed off attitude when we lost Game 5,” Cooper said. “I want to be an angry team.”
While the Lightning focus on emotion in Game 6, their technical focus is on finding offensive chances – a style that made Tampa Bay the highest-scoring team in the NHL this season.
“We can’t just sit here and rely on six-to-eight chances a game, of which only three are grade ‘A’,” said Cooper. “We need to start getting that number up to 14, 15, 16 chances a game, where you need a number of big-time chances. That’s what we’re used to and that’s what we’ve gotta get back to.”
The Lightning’s scoring success in the regular season was largely attributed to an explosive transition game and excellent puck management. They proved it with much better puck possession metrics than the Canadiens, who finished 10 spots behind Tampa in shot attempt differential.
But the tables have turned in this series, as Montreal has been on top in shot attempt differential throughout.
It’s not just a lack of offence that has frustrated the Lighting, though. Montreal has been very successful at limiting turnovers of their own, and causing them in the defensive end.
After recording 25 turnovers in a Game 1 loss, the Canadiens have only committed 35 since. The Lightning, by contrast, has been credited with 51 giveaways since the beginning of Game 2.
“When [the Lightning] turned pucks over, we didn’t hold onto it, we moved it up the ice and we attacked, we attacked, we attacked,” said P.K. Subban. “That’s their game. They want to attack all the time.”
The Canadiens have stifled that attack, and in addition to their technical successes, the emotional balance Montreal has found is nothing short of remarkable.
“I think the good teams are the ones that are able to stay even keel,” said Max Pacioretty.
How many teams could rebound with two wins after a gut-punch like the one Lightning forward Tyler Johnson delivered with a last-second goal in Game 3 to give his team a 3-0 series stranglehold?
“It just shows the character we have in the locker room,” said Torrey Mitchell.
Mitchell and the Canadiens believe character has been the key component in staving off elimination twice this series. If they can do it once more, Cooper won’t have any trouble convincing his team to be angry for Game 7.