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Lightning journal: Capitals had a shot at Jon Cooper

WASHINGTON — Interesting how things work out in the world of hockey.

Back in 2012, the first NHL team to ever interview Jon Cooper for a head coaching job was actually the Washington Capitals. The Caps general manager at the time was George McPhee, who has since moved on to become GM of one of the greatest expansion teams in sports history — the Vegas Golden Knights, who have advanced to the Stanley Cup final.

Many people believe that McPhee, who was the Caps GM from 1997 to 2014, wanted to hire Cooper for the Caps job back in 2012, but Caps ownership preferred Adam Oates, who was hired and lasted two seasons. Oates and McPhee were both let go in 2014.

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But Cooper came away from the experience with great respect for McPhee.

"He's at the top of the pyramid for me," Cooper said. "I was extremely fortunate to land with (Lightning general manager) Steve Yzerman. But George, when I was coming up the ranks and going through my first interview process, I met with him on numerous occasions. I just remember when I was not the one brought in — nor should I have been at the time — but there was always something in me that said, 'Hey, if there was ever a situation, I would definitely go work for that guy.' He's everything as advertised."

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That's why Cooper is pleased to see the success McPhee is having in Vegas.

"He deserves what he's getting," Cooper said.

So it all worked out for Cooper, the Lightning, McPhee and Vegas. For Washington? Remains to be seen. It hasn't so far.

Stanley Cup final schedule

Here's the schedule for the Stanley Cup final, which starts Monday — in Tampa Bay if the Lightning wins Wednesday and in Vegas if it doesn't:

Lightning-Capitals winner vs. Golden Knights

(All games on NBC at 8 p.m. ET)

Monday, May 28

Wednesday, May 30

Saturday, June 2

Monday, June 4

Thursday, June 7*

Sunday, June 10*

Wednesday, June 13*

(*— if necessary)

Chatting it up

Of course, there's nothing more important in a hockey game that was happens on the ice. But there is something important going on off the ice. Just off the ice: the bench. Sometimes talking a good game can help, and when the Lightning is going well, there's lots of talking on the bench.

"To me, there's a ton of leadership involved there, and it keeps guys engaged," Cooper said. "So when you have a quiet bench, you got that fear of going to sleep. When you have guys talking, keeping guys engaged, saying what's happening, giving guys heads up, it just kind of trickles down to the rest of the guys. I like when the bench is active. I like when guys are communicating."

And the guy who usually does most of the talking is Chris Kunitz, the veteran of four Stanley Cup winners.

"(He's) kind of the leader of that,'' Cooper said. "I just think the younger guys just learn from that. It's just part of Kunitz and his winning habits."

He said it

"Tonight is the night."  — The Caps' Alex Ovechkin, before Game 6 when someone reminded him that the Caps had not won a home game in this series. Is that a guarantee? If so, it was his second of the playoffs. In the first round, he said the Caps were going to rally from a 2-0 deficit to tie the series with Columbus. They did and went on to win in six games.

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Bolts bits

The Lightning came into Game 6 with a perfect record in the playoffs in Washington at 7-0. It was 3-0 in 2003, 2-0 in 2011 and 2-0 this season. … Of all the moves made by Yzerman, the one flying under the radar right now is the acquisition before the season of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. He's only 19 and is close to being a star already. Playing this long postseason is an invaluable experience.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.

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