Quest for the Stanley Cup continues with Cooper keeping his cool

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The voice floated out from a sea of Montreal Canadiens players on the ice.

“We get a shot! We get a shot!”

Though it’s not clear who said it, what was clear was the Canadiens had gotten where they had hoped to reach: the Stanley Cup Final. After defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the Stanley Cup Semifinals, they were four wins from getting to dance with the Cup.

And the Tampa Bay Lightning were about to be right there with them. 

The fifth episode of the sixth season of “Quest for the Stanley Cup,” a seven-part, all-access series starts on the verge of that Final, with a deciding Game 7 between the Lightning and New York Islanders in the semifinals for a date with the Canadiens. The episode premieres Friday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+ in the United States and YouTube.com/NHL in Canada. 

Though Jon Cooper’s kids have strict rules for game viewing, with wife Jessie sticking with particular articles of clothing, that’s not the case for the Tampa Bay coach.  

“I think I get all the nerves. I’m the biggest worrier,” Jessie said. “He does not really worry, about anything.”

As Cooper said, “You can’t let the moment engulf you. It’s your trust in what you’ve done to get you to this point. And I feel like I’m way more prepared for this moment. But you have to enjoy this moment as well.”

They certainly do, their shutout of the Islanders setting off a raucous on-ice celebration after a shorthanded goal by center Yanni Gourde and a perfect performance by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy earned them a trip back to the Stanley Cup Final. And demonstrating their imperviousness to nerves, the Lightning replicated their break with loose tradition from last season, with captain Steven Stamkos touching the Prince of Wales Trophy. 

But not everything is the same as last season, as Cooper acknowledged. 

Tampa Bay won the Cup in a bubble in Edmonton because of the coronavirus pandemic, its victory coming in front of no fans and few family members. This season could be very different. 

“Our names are etched on the Stanley Cup forever. We got to do it together,” Cooper said. “But we were robbed not having fans, not having friends and family with us. And now we’re getting that chance.”

And the Lightning have Stamkos with them, on the ice this time. After missing all but a single game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the center is back and healthy and with his team every step of the way. 

“Definitely in a little different mindset last year, not knowing if I was going to get in,” Stamkos said. 

Video: Quest For The Stanley Cup: Stamkos reads lineup card

There is no such worry this season. 

Though Tampa Bay has its captain with them and less uncertainty than in the past on the injury front, that hasn’t been the case for Montreal. The Canadiens would be without coach Dominique Ducharme to start the Final because of a positive COVID-19 test, with forward Joel Armia also missing Game 1 because of a testing issue, though he subsequently tested negative.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Armia said. “It’s been both good and bad.”
He later added, “Once I finally got the green light, it felt like the best feeling ever.”

The Canadiens would lose Game 2 of the series to go down 2-0 in the best-of-7 Final, but with the series shifting to Montreal for Game 3, it was clear the roller coaster ride wasn’t over quite yet.

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