Game 1 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, extreme or not, left me with this thought: “Jon Cooper is just another cowardly hockey coach.”
It’s totally unfair to condemn a head coach for a single off night. Still, maybe Game 1 was the death of the final cell of sports naiveté in my body.
Every now and then, you buy into a narrative, and I couldn’t help but fall in line in thinking that Cooper was a little different. His press conferences included witty comments and frank admissions that specific playoff contests weren’t just any other game. He also seemingly bounced everywhere from Timbuktu to Kalamazoo to finally land an NHL job.
Seriously though, it never ceases to amuse me that coaches of NHL and NFL teams require amazing feats of courage - either explicitly or implicitly - while they often employ strategies that are about as brave as curling up into the fetal position. You’d think that sort of journey would lend itself to a gambler’s mindset, and again, it’s plausible that Cooper isn’t always a fraidy cat.
It felt that way last night, though. The Lightning stampeded out of the gate and out-skilled and speeded through the Chicago freaking Blackhawks. Not many teams can do that. Heck, I’d imagine the ‘Hawks could take down a good chunk of the squads who participated in the World Hockey Championships, and those teams included hand-picked rosters of players out of the postseason.
One can understand a certain amount of caution, especially against a team as dangerous as the Blackhawks. Still, going into total turtle mode seems really misguided. It’s also remarkably boring.
If I were Cooper, this is the kind of game that (to paraphrase Herb Brooks), you take to your bleepin’ grave.
I’m probably being too harsh, though.
BLACKHAWKS 2, LIGHTNING 1
-- OK, let me be fair, though. Limiting the Blackhawks to 21 SOG is impressive. Keeping Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane off of the scoreboard is a rare and difficult feat, and I'm sure Cooper's system and tactics have a lot to do with that. He'd certainly destroy me if I was on the other bench (like basically any coach at any level, but STILL).
-- Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks might win a third Cup even with three players under 10 minutes of ice time, and generally some serious lineup imbalances. A less fortunate coach would be getting grilled for this, but it's OK because he gets to lean on Duncan Keith and Toews and /list goes on.
-- Can we get more ice time for Teuvo Teravainen though, seriously? He scored the game-tying goal and assisted on the GWG despite only receiving 11:51 TOI. At least he's starting to get quality power-play reps.
-- Where does Brad Richards land next season? His overall production is actually a bit more impressive than I expected (11 points in 18 playoff games).
-- Corey Crawford made some pretty tough saves, especially when the Lightning were, you know, trying to score. He only had to stop 22 shots overall, though.
-- I quite like Ben Bishop, but is he really at the level where you can win with him in turtle mode against the Blackhawks? Honestly, I'd be scared to do that with any netminders, beyond maybe Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist ( ... and even then, I'd be uncomfortable).
-- Not a great night for “The Triplets,” who didn’t excel possession-wise and didn’t generate much in the way of points or chances. The Lightning’s other big line was impressive, though, as Alex Killorn scored the goal while Steve Stamkos and Killorn had five SOG each.