This season, the Lightning came back mentally tougher, in part thanks to the addition of some other veterans who felt they had something to prove. One of them, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, scored the overtime winner in Game 4 to put the Lightning one win away from the Stanley Cup — just one year after he was bought out of the last two years of his contract with the Rangers.
In an era of parity in the N.H.L., where dynastic franchises largely belong to a bygone era, Tampa Bay has been one of the most successful teams in the league since Cooper took over behind their bench near the end of the 2012-13 season.
For five of those years, from 2013 to 2018, Cooper was assisted by Rick Bowness, the veteran defensive coach who left for Dallas at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. He was named the Stars’ interim head coach midway through this season, after Jim Montgomery was dismissed.
Bowness had also been to the finals in 2011 with Vancouver and on the 2015 Tampa team.
“Three kicks at it — last nine years — it’s disappointing,” he said. “Sitting here as a coach, you have to roll with the punches. We don’t second-guess anyone’s effort or commitment. We came up short against a team. We lost to a better team.”
Cooper is currently the longest-tenured coach in the league. Under his leadership, the club has now made the playoffs in six of his seven full seasons, reaching the Eastern Conference finals twice and losing to Chicago in the 2015 Stanley Cup finals before finally finishing the job this year — a Sun Belt team realizing its championship dreams in an empty arena in Northern Alberta.
“It’s easy to talk about now,” Cooper said. “The bottom line is, there are some gifted people I guess, that success finds them instantly. But in a team sport, I truly believe that failure — you have to feel it before you can have success.
“You wear the bumps, you wear the bruises, you wear the heartache,” he continued. “You wear the feelings, you wear it on your sleeve and it keeps you up at night, but it also drives you. And it almost becomes — the fear of losing becomes greater than the joy of winning, and we were not going to be denied.