TAMPA – Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper, the folksy former defense attorney who has been nothing short of charming and engaging throughout the playoffs, is clearly beginning to feel the heat of being down 1-0 in the Stanley Cup final.
That much was evident after the morning skate when Cooper got, well, a little snippy in an exchange with your trusty correspondent. Cooper was asked whether or not Steven Stamkos would get more ice time in Game 2 and Cooper responded with the following: “I mean, I don’t know what that means. Should I just play him the whole game, like all 60?” When it was suggested that perhaps a little more than 18 minutes - Stamkos actually played only 17:17 in Game 1 might be a good idea, he responded with: “So if he plays 20 minutes, I should give him two more shifts. I’ll think about that tonight.”
Some facts are inescapable. One of them is that Stamkos averaged 19:22 in ice time during the regular season and just 18:01 in the playoffs. Another is that five forwards on the Lighting – five forwards! – logged more ice time than Stamkos in Game 1. Another is that when the Lightning was down 2-1 late in the game, Stamkos was nowhere to be found.
You want to start the Steven-Stamkos-isn’t-happy-in-Tampa-and-he’ll-end-up-in-Toronto rumors? That’s a good place to start. And it’s not as though Stamkos didn’t do much with his ice time in Game 1. While the Triplet Line was entirely ineffective, Stamkos had five shots on goal among eight shot attempts and was the most dangerous Lightning forward on the ice.
Look for Stamkos to get a few more looks in Game 2 tonight. Another new wrinkle for the Lightning is there’s a possibility that rookie Jonathan Drouin might make his first playoff appearance since Game 4 of the second round against the Montreal Canadiens. The third overall pick in the 2013 draft struggled with just four goals in his first NHL season and has played just three playoff games, but his skill level is undeniable and, like one or two shifts from Stamkos has the potential to make a difference, so might having Drouin on the ice.
Drouin was told by the Lightning coaching staff that he will be taking part in the warmup and a decision will be made then. Who comes out? Well, it might be Cedric Paquette, who blocked a shot in Game 1 and almost certainly has a broken finger. That could keep him from playing, but it will likely be a game-time decision.
“It’s hard to sit here and say what you expect,” Cooper said. “I’m going to sit here and say, ‘I expect every single guy on our team to have a hat trick tonight and to win,’ what would that be, 60-0? It doesn’t work out that way. We expect our guys to produce, stick to our structure, play as hard as you can, look in the mirror at the end of the day and say, ‘I have no regrets.’ If he’s in, that’s what I expect.”
After watching 20-year-old Teuvo Teravainen be such a difference maker in Game 1, Drouin is itching to get his chance to perform on the biggest stage. But there is no sense of entitlement with Drouin, who realizes that being a regular healthy scratch in the playoffs can be part of the learning curve for a young player.
“It is frustrating,” Drouin said, “but if you look at it, there’s two teams left here in the Cup final and I’m 19. I’m definitely learning a lot of stuff here, even though I’m watching from up there. Everybody is on vacation and you’re still going at it.”
Neither coach seems terribly reticent to insert young players into his lineup. Rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk will probably get some action in the final at some point, despite the fact he hasn’t played an NHL game since November. For Drouin, if he plays, it will have been one day short of a full month since he last played a game.
Drouin was cut from the Lightning last year after going third overall in the draft and has experienced his growing pains during his rookie year. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that Stamkos himself had to adjust to the NHL as rookie and it wasn’t easy at time. Joe Thornton was a spare part in his first year and Jason Spezza was told by his coach that he was a boy trying to play in a man’s league.
“I never thought it was going to be easy,” Drouin said. “Getting cut last year as an 18-year-old, I came here with a chip on my shoulder. It’s such a great team and you want to be in every night, but it’s definitely a harder league to come in and start playing.”