Michel Therrien, Jon Cooper take different angles

P.K. Subban's slump. Ben Bishop's injury. Steven Stamkos. The Montreal-Tampa Bay first-round matchup doesn't lack for storylines, but the x-factor could be the battle between two very different bench bosses, writes Radio-Canada's Guillaume Lefrancois.

Therrien, Cooper very different bench bosses

Coaches Jon Cooper, left, and Montreal's Michel Therrien will match wits in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. (Getty Images)

As the Canadiens-Lightning first-round series begins Wednesday night (CBC,, 6:30 p.m. ET) a lot is being made of Bolts goalie Ben Bishop’s injury. How the Canadiens will match up against star forward Steven Stamkos is another hot topic. The ever-scrutinized P.K. Subban also gets people talking, and his late-season woes didn’t go unnoticed.

What we're hearing less of, though, is the formidable clash between two head coaches who could hardly seem more different if they came from different planets.

In the blue corner is Jon Cooper, a former collegiate lacrosse player with a law degree who, in his first full season as an NHL head coach, is looking to add to an impressive resume.

Cooper took over late last season for a Lightning team that finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and guided it to a playoff berth this year.

Since getting his start in the junior ranks with the NAHL’s St. Louis Bandits in 2006, he's won four championships in seven seasons. In his worst full season as a head coach, he led the 2010-2011 Norfolk Admirals to a pretty decent 39-26-15 record. The following year, he guided the Admirals to a pro-hockey record 29 straight wins and a Calder Cup championship.

Cooper has accomplished all that by implementing a structured system and some fine psychological tactics, such as posting a magazine’s unflattering predictions about his team above the dressing-room urinals.

In the red corner is Michel Therrien, a nine-year NHL coaching veteran who also played three seasons in the AHL as a defenceman.

A Memorial Cup champion in 1996 with the Granby Predateurs, Therrien helped the Pittsburgh Penguins reach the Stanley Cup final in 2008. Besides that run, though, his teams have won only one series in three NHL post-season appearances, and that came back in 2002 in his first stint with the Canadiens.

About the time Therrien was fired by the Habs in 2003, Cooper was closing down his law practice. Oral arguments must have been a strength of Cooper's when he was a lawyer because hockey beat writers would be hard-pressed to find a better talker than the Lightning head coach. At Tuesday's post-practice press conference, he entertained both local and Montreal reporters for a 20 good minutes.

Therrien's pressers, meanwhile, are rarely insightful and hardly entertaining, with one notable exception in 2006.

In the Habs head coach's defence, he works in a much tougher media market than his Tampa counterpart. Every word he says has the potential to fuel the array of talking heads in Montreal.

Another war of words?

That's not to say Therrien is a bad coach. He has engineered remarkable turnarounds in all three of his tenures in the NHL. This season, the Canadiens were one of four Eastern Conference teams to reach the 100-point plateau.

A good playoff run would add to that feat, and would erase the bad memories from last year’s first-round series against the Senators. 

That spring, Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean drew Therrien’s ire by blaming then Montreal blue-liner Raphael Diaz for putting teammate Lars Eller in a vulnerable spot when the big Danish centre was sent off on a stretcher after a devastating open-ice hit from defenceman Eric Gryba.

Later in the series, a timeout called by MacLean with 17 seconds to go in Game 3, with the Sens up 6-1, prompted Therrien to call out his rival for a “lack of class.”

After the following game, Therrien blamed the referees for several calls, basically abandoning the motto printed in big, bold letters in his team’s dressing room: “No Excuses.”

It’s hard to imagine the soft-spoken Cooper firing jabs at Therrien like MacLean did last year. But if he does, it will be fun to see whether Therrien bites and responds publicly.

This week’s numbers

13: Post-season experience, in minutes, for Lightning goalie Anders Lindback, all of them three years ago. The Habs will look to test him early to try to rattle him.

14: Games played by defenceman Francis Bouillon in the final 16 for this team. After being a healthy scratch for 15 out of 16 games before and after the Olympic break, the veteran appears to be back as a regular member of the top six. We'll see how long this holds, now that Josh Gorges is back from a hand injury.

19: Games P.K. Subban went without scoring at the end of the season. His big shot is a key for the Canadiens’ power play to be successful, and it hasn’t been lately, going 0-for-23 in the final eight games of the season.


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