Rangers’ time will come soon

TAMPA, Fla. — When it was over — after the Lightning had finally survived the Rangers in Game 6 on Saturday night at Amalie Arena to advance to their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final and the teams were taking part in the traditional post-game handshakes at mid-ice — Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper reached the end of the line and met with Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. They had an extended embrace.

“You’re going to be sitting in this seat very soon,’’ was the essence of the message Cooper delivered to Gallant, with whom he has coached and is close friends.

“That Ranger team,’’ a humbled Cooper said after the game, pausing. “Gerard Gallant is going to be sitting here not too long in the future.’’

Cooper went on to credit the Rangers for their competitiveness in this series, despite the fact that they were clearly gassed in the final couple of contests. Saturday was their 20th playoff game in the past 40 nights.

“It’s hard when you go seven [games against Pittsburgh], you go seven [games against Carolina] and you go six [against Tampa Bay] … that was their 20th playoff game in 40 days,’’ Cooper said. “It’s hard to play 20 regular-season games in 40 days, let alone playoff games. And for them to get as far as they did, I’m amazed by what they did, let alone what we did.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper shakes Igor Shesterkin's after the Rangers' 2-1 season-ending loss.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper shakes Igor Shesterkin’s after the Rangers’ 2-1 season-ending loss.

“The playoffs at times can be a war of attrition, and I think in the end the layoff helped us. It didn’t early, but no layoff hurt them and the long series. These games are 2-1, 3-2, they’re all extremely tight games. They gave us everything they had.’’

Cooper came away highly impressed with the Rangers after this series, sounding like a coach who expects to see them go deep into the playoffs again next season.

“When you have the core they have, the guys up front and some of the defensemen they have, and then you got the goaltender [Igor Shesterkin], it’s a pretty good recipe to have.

“And,’’ Cooper went on, “led by what I consider to be one of the best coaches in the world in Gerard Gallant. So, I told Gerard that someday, hopefully when I’m not still coaching, he’s going to be up here.’’

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