The Toronto Maple Leafs have no shortage of motivation heading into Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs are just one win away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They are just one win away from silencing the haters who have been beating up on this team for the last five consecutive first-round failures. In case you didn’t know, Toronto last won the Cup in 1967.
The list goes on, but just in case they needed more motivation, Tampa Bay’s head coach Jon Cooper continues to give them bulletin board quotes.
It’s as old as sports itself, trash talk. During the game is one thing, but the quotes outside the contest become material to put up in the locker room. If the opposition starts being less than flattering, those quotes can find the team room for everyone to see. This is the mind games that takes place, especially during playoffs.
Maple Leafs Not Worthy
Cooper is known for speaking his mind, but the Lightning head coach was complimentary of Toronto for the regular season and the start of the playoffs. However, that changed after Game 1, and it’s ratcheting up with each game. It’s now at the point that leads one to believe Cooper thinks Toronto is just not worthy. This team should bow down to the defending Stanley Cup champions and just consider themselves lucky to play on the same ice as NHL royalty.
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That may be extreme, but it is pretty close. After Toronto won Game 5, Cooper made it sound like the Maple Leafs didn’t do much to win the game. “We are not really making them earn it. We are kind of giving it to them.” Cooper was referring to penalties, but there’s been a lot of penalties called against both teams. “It’s unfortunate. That game was there for the taking for us. We let it slip through our fingers. It is on us. That is the most simplified way I can put it,” continued Cooper.
Cooper Took Aim at Campbell
He’s also made comments about Jack Campbell after Game 3. Campbell got the win but got torched in Game 4 and was pulled halfway through the second period. Did the words reach Campbell and impact his game? We will never know, but Campbell was the reason Toronto won Game 5.
Cooper is even giving more material for Game 6, “In our run here (the back-to-back Cup runs), I think we have had one elimination game. What was the tell-tale sign of the elimination game? We didn’t give up any goals. I am not saying you have to do that again, but that has to be a mindset of ours that at times tonight got away from us.” Perhaps predicting a shutout, but definitely laying down the gauntlet to his guys and the Maple Leafs.
The truth is Cooper does respect the Maple Leafs. This kind of talk is just another part of what has led his team to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories. While it may come across as condescending to other teams, the head coach is mainly challenging his own team to be better. By slighting the opposition goalie, he tells his guys they can beat him. By saying his team gave it away, and the other team doesn’t have to work for it, he is slamming his team for a poor effort and making it clear he wants them to step it up. Cooper has been a very successful coach for a long time, so this is not critiquing his approach; it is up to the Maple Leafs to change his words.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.