Jon Cooper said he wants the Tampa Bay Lightning to make their own history rather than wallow in what happened last season.
The Lightning, the No. 2 seed, will play the Columbus Blue Jackets, the No. 7 seed, in the Eastern Conference First Round for the second consecutive season, with Game 1 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, SUN, FS-O).
Tampa Bay won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and tied an NHL record with 62 wins but were swept by Columbus, an upset Cooper said his players must put behind them.
“What happened last year happened last year,” the Lightning coach said Monday. “That’s in the history books forever. Now it’s time to write your own history, and that’s what we intend to do with this team.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we said right from the beginning of the season, if you want to write your own history, you have to make the playoffs, and we did that.”
The Lightning are a different team from the one the Blue Jackets eliminated 16 months ago, in personnel and in style.
Tampa Bay entered the 2019 playoffs as a Stanley Cup favorite after their record-tying season, but Columbus wasn’t intimidated. The Blue Jackets used a physical game plan to punish the Lightning whenever possible and never let them to get into full gear.
The Lightning responded to last season’s loss by adding some muscle to a team more renowned for its hustle. Forward Pat Maroon (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) was signed this offseason, and forwards Barclay Goodrow (6-2, 215) and Blake Coleman (5-11, 200) were acquired in trades in February. They have added a grinding element management felt was missing last spring.
The result is a team that relies less on finesse than in the past and can play any type of style the opposition throws at it. The added depth will come in handy if defenseman Victor Hedman or forward Steven Stamkos is unavailable.
Cooper said Hedman’s status will be determined Tuesday after he was injured during a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in a Stanley Cup Qualifier round-robin game Saturday. Stamkos missed the three round-robin games because of a lower-body injury he sustained before training camp.
“We feel good about our group,” Cooper said. “It’s unfortunate that we have a couple of key guys out. That’s why you acquire guys to add depth to your team and add an element that can help success. But you don’t know until that actually happens.
“Regardless of your opponent, you worry about your own team and making sure you are prepared to play any kind of style. I think (general manager) Julian [BriseBois] has done a good job surrounding our team with that. And when there are bumps in the road like there are in the road for us, you get that next-man-up mentality and hope that the depth you brought in is going to help.
“We really like our group.”
So does Maroon, who won the Stanley Cup last season with the St. Louis Blues. In the offensive zone Maroon attempts to plant himself at the edge of the crease and cause fits for the opposing goalie. He understands how talented the Lightning are and hopes his grit and physicality can help push them over the top.
“I think this team’s been on a lot of runs here,” Maroon said, noting the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018. “A lot of faces in there know what it takes to get there. They’ve been stopped, but me, hopefully my voice carries in the room and helps find an identity for our team. Playing the right way, playing hard, competing, keeping things simple and being mentally strong.”
Maroon said injuries are not an excuse.
“Each game is going to be tough,” he said. “You are not going to win a series in Game 1. It’s how you respond.”
The Blue Jackets also have a different look from last season. Forwards Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky signed elsewhere as free agents, but without them Columbus defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games in their best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series.
“There’s a lot of differences, a lot of things both teams have gone through, and it’s a whole new season,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “That’s a storyline for [the media]. For us, we’re just concerned about ourselves. I think that’s always how we’ve approached things.
“It’s a great storyline, but that was in the past. And we’re looking forward to this opportunity that we have to continue to move on and chase that dream that we’ve all talked about, of winning the Stanley Cup.
“It’s going to make for a great series.”
Foligno said the Blue Jackets still don’t get the respect they deserve from many around the NHL. They certainly do from Cooper, however.
“If blue collar means hard-working, they are that,” Cooper said. “But they don’t have blue-collar talent. They have blue-chip talent.”