Lightning coach refuses to acknowledge Leafs’ dominant centre depth

Apr 21 2023, 1:56 pm

The Tampa Bay Lightning took a loss on Thursday, but their head coach Jon Cooper refused to concede anything to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ impressive centre depth.

Game 2 of the Leafs-Lightning series featured a dominant beatdown for Toronto at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday night. Suffice it to say, tensions were high among the Lightning, who found themselves on the wrong side of the 7-2 scoreboard.

“It is a seven-game series. It is not a one-and-done,” Cooper said. “We will be alright.”

The big change in Thursday’s game was the Leafs spreading out their centre depth, playing Auston Matthews, Jon Tavares, and Ryan O’Reilly on separate lines. Tavares played on the wing in Game 1.

In the last question of his press conference, Cooper was asked how it changes his team’s approach when the Leafs spread out their three star centres. The Lightning coach seemed almost offended at the question.

“How did that change? So how many centres deep are we? Let me ask you that,” Cooper said, firing a question back at the reporter, before interrupting him. “Give me [Brayden] Point, [Anthony] Cirelli, and [Nick] Paul all day against anybody in the league.”

The Leafs’ top three centres all had a point in Game 2, with Tavares picking up a hat trick. Matthews had two assists, while O’Reilly picked up one assist.

“We needed a response tonight in a big way. They took it to us pretty good the other night,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters after the big win. “Now we have a series. We will get out on the road and have to play even better than we did tonight.”

The series shifts to Tampa for Game 3 on Saturday (7 pm ET on CBC/Sportsnet). The Lightning had the second-best home record in the NHL during the regular season, going 28-8-5.

Al SciolaAl Sciola

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