Losing Game 1 is nothing new for Lightning, but chasing Avalanche is a different story

DENVER — Jon Cooper wasn’t blowing a smoke, nor was he trying to start a fire among the two-time defending champions.

When the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach took the podium and said that “the right team won” after the Colorado Avalanche clinched a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, he didn’t try , neither does inflating his opponent’s ego.

This was an experienced and articulate coach who felt the emotion of an outing that saw his team poorly outplayed at times but still found a way to persevere, breaking two two-goal deficits and putting the game ahead of Andre Burakovsky in the fourth period Bring delivered a dagger after another unforced error.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom Thursday morning, Cooper made it clear that he wasn’t looking for a psychological advantage, he was just telling the truth.

“I think when I speak to the media, I speak to the media. But I’m a pretty straight forward guy. What I say in the room, I’m not kidding the boys,” Cooper said. “I’ve told them we have the best in us and they know they have the best in us. I won’t say that we got better with every loss. We’ve played some good games and lost (although) we feel better about ourselves when we win, but we’re pretty easygoing with our group.

“There is no attempt to send messages in the media or anything like that. I’m not trying to hide who’s in the lineup or not. This group has been through too much together and the best policy is to be upfront with them and everyone in this room agrees we could have done a better job.”

One of the many things we’ve learned about Cooper and the Lightning is that slow starts in a streak aren’t uncommon – and history has shown that that hasn’t proved to be an obstacle in the race for four wins in a row.

Resilience is a word that gets thrown around, but the Lightning embodies the definition.

Only in the last round did this team trail 2-0 in the series against the New York Rangers and then trail 2-0 in Game 3.

But just when you thought the team wearing the crown would give it up, not only did they find a way to avoid going 3-0 down in the series, they didn’t lose a single game in the series — and they did gave up a single goal in five against five in their last four competitions.

“It’s not about winning Game 1,” Cooper said. “Yeah, do we want to win every single game? No question. But we also took to the streets for all four series. So the fact that we won one of them is kind of a bonus on our end. But it’s about winning the series. Yeah it sucks that we lost game 1 but let’s turn the page here and see if we get game 2. It’s about the series.”

As this heavyweight battle began, it was safe to say that each team faced their most difficult task of dealing with an opponent.

That prediction proved accurate with an opener that lived up to the advance billing.

As impressive as the Avalanche was at times, this wasn’t a classic Lightning feat.

The stars at the Avalanche were mostly beaming, and not just because of their presence on the scoresheet.

Meanwhile, there were some quiet performances from the top guns on the Lightning, although Brayden Point was effective as he returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a lower body injury in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round would have. Played almost 19 minutes and recorded an assist.

Captain Steven Stamkos was kept in check for the most part, while top blue liner Victor Hedman made a few uncharacteristic turnovers and occasionally looked upset.

Hedman was also visibly frustrated after receiving a first-half hit from Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson, which is unsurprising given how high he was checked by Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere in Game 6 of the final round.

Looking at their respective track records, it’s safe to assume that Stamkos and Hedman will soon be making their mark on the series.

These are two great leaders, and they know exactly what to do when the stakes are high.

“The mindset is, we’re here to win a streak and you don’t know when that’s coming: four games, five, six, seven, you never know,” Stamkos said after Game 1. “We did one great job of making adjustments after losses. So we will try to do that.”

Blitz goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t as sharp as usual early on, failing to manage a shot from Mikko Rantanen that led to a rebound from Gabe Landeskog and allowed Valeri Nichushkin to wrister through the five-hole.

But Vasilevskiy adjusted and made a number of key stops to keep his team within striking distance and allow them to go into overtime, ending with 34 saves.

He almost never loses consecutive starts (once in his last 18 playoff games), and having a goaltender to lean on at times like these is a luxury many teams just don’t have.

Another thing about the Lightning is that we know they’re tough.

They made a habit of absorbing punches but avoiding a knockout.

That mentality doesn’t change after an overtime loss and the belief remains strong, something that’s easier to lean on when you’ve been at the top of the mountain.

It’s a focused and optimistic group that has weathered numerous bumps along the way in the past and is unwilling to give up the belt, at least not without fighting back.

“I think that’s the point, right? It’s not about riding the wave of a game. If that was the best two out of three, then maybe our feelings would be a little different,” Cooper said. “But it’s a best-of-seven. And for us we got swept, we swept teams, we won Game 6 5-4, whatever it was. But it’s about getting our feet under us. It is understandable that we are playing against another team.

“We can’t win the series in one game and they were really good at that. It took us a while to get into that mindset, but we’ve really developed that over the years and hopefully we can pull that off in another series and take another step forward in Game 2.

Cooper is known for his adaptability, both within games and within a series.

With an extra day between Games 1 and 2 (scheduled for Saturday at the Ball Arena, on Sportsnet at 8pm ET/5pm PT) you can be sure he’ll be looking for an advantage – whether he’s on lines tinkering or trying Finding ways to possibly slow down an Avalanche team that was often brought to warp speed in the opener.

Cooper was spot on in his assessment – the Lightning need to do better if they plan to equalize this series before it moves to Florida and avoid another 0-2 hole.

“It wasn’t an effort thing, it was an execution thing and our details in our game, we’ve got to be a hell of a lot better if we’re going to knock this team out,” Cooper said. “But did they have that message before I went on the podium? Yes they did.”

The Flash didn’t just get the message. Chances are they will respond.

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