Stanley Cup: 'We've been here before' – Lightning coach Jon Cooper relies on championship experience

By Sports Desk June 25, 2022

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said his side's 3-2 road win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final typified the kind of championship pedigree that has delivered back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Trailing 3-1 in the series heading into the contest, the Lightning struck first after 15 minutes of action as Jan Rutta got on the end of a move by Corey Perry and Mikhail Sergachev.

It would be the only score of the opening period, before the Avalanche would tie things up five minutes into the second term through a Valeri Nichushkin strike.

Just three minutes later Nikita Kucherov put Tampa Bay back ahead with a power-play goal, but the Avalanche would not lay down on their home ice, squaring the ledger once again two minutes into the third and final period, with Cale Makar setting up a tense finish.

Ondrej Palat would be the hero, putting the Lightning ahead 3-2 with less than seven minutes to play, before a late penalty against the Avalanche for having too many men on the ice all but ended their chances of a comeback.

Speaking to ESPN after the result, Cooper said all his side has went through over the past two championship runs has prepared them for these situations.

"The resolve in the room – and part of this is that we've been here before," he said. "We know this feeling, we've been on both sides.

"We've been part of the cup-winning team when we had a chance to close somebody out, and you learn from those experiences. 

"We've not closed teams out, and we've closed teams out. Champions have a skillset like none other, but the greatest skillset they have is what's between the ears, and we used that tonight to our advantage. We're still alive."

Asked about what he appreciates most about this Lightning team, Cooper said it was their toughness.

"It's what the people don't see," he said. "You see everything that goes on the ice and all that – it's what you see in the locker room.

"These guys – it's like they're spent, and you think 'how are they going to get off the mat?' – and then they get off the mat. It's just amazing to see.

"I remember Wayne Gretzky saying once about when they lost in the Cup to the Islanders – when they got there, they got swept – and as his team walked off, nothing wrong with them, they looked into the Islanders locker room, and they weren't even celebrating, they all had ice bags and packs.

"That's what it takes to win, and I've always kept that with me. When you get these teams, you kind of have to have that attitude, and that's what this team has."

Cooper was also full of praise for star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy – who was named player of the game – calling him "the best in the world".

"I just sit here and think about sports in general, and the importance of somebody in sports," he said.

"You look at football, and how important Tom Brady is to his team, the quarterback. The quarterback in football is like the goaltender in hockey.

"You're the last line of defense, if that puck goes in the net, you're the one that has to sweep it out and turn the page because they're coming right back at you.

"Everybody's got their eyes on you, and all he does is deliver. You talk about a mental mindset of gamesmanship, that kid's got it, and that's why he's the best in the world."

Scorer of the winning goal, Palat said his side was confident coming into the contest, and that they did what was needed.

"I thought we played a good game – a great road game, we stayed on top of it," he said.

"[Vasilevskiy] was great, again, and we just find a way to win. A huge win, now we're excited to go back to Tampa.

"Right now we feel pretty good – we're excited to go back in front of our friends, it's going to be a great game. I felt great [before the game], everybody was pretty confident and excited. 

"We knew we had to just win this game and move on."

Now trailing 3-2 in the series, the Lightning will head home for Game 6, and if they win, the Game 7 decider will be back in Colorado.

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