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Familiarity breeds respect in NHL Eastern Conference playoffs

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper yells instructions during the third period against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Feb. 11. (AP file photo)

TORONTO — Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper took exception to the Columbus Blue Jackets being referred to as “a blue-collar” team.

“Is that a positive or a negative?” Cooper said Monday, a day before his Eastern Conference second-seeded Lightning open the first round of the NHL playoffs against the seventh-seeded Blue Jackets.

“If blue-collar means a hard-working team, they are. But they don’t have blue-collar talent,” he added. “They have blue-chip talent.”

Cooper and the Lightning know just how good the Blue Jackets are in a rematch of last season’s first-round series in which Columbus swept the Presidents’ Trophy winners in four games.

“What happened last year, happened last year. That’s in the history books forever,” Cooper said, noting how both teams have made various changes to their lineups. “I wouldn’t call them a blue-collar team. I’d call them a really good team.”

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, top center, watches from the bench during the third period against the Capitals in Washington on April 6, 2019. (AP file photo)

Familiarity is breeding respect among the East opponents entering the first round.

Fourth-seeded Boston and Carolina open also open today, a year after the Bruins swept the Hurricanes in the conference finals.

The other two series, which begin Wednesday, feature coaches facing their former teams.

Two years removed from coaching the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, Barry Trotz is now behind the New York Islanders bench in preparing to face third-seeded Washington.

“That group has a lot of pedigree, they’ve got a lot of star power,” Trotz said of the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals. “I think it’ll be a hell of a series.”

The top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers have two former Montreal coaches — Alain Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien — on their staff in preparing to face the upstart Canadiens. Montreal was the last team in the East to qualify for the expanded playoffs, and then needed four games to win its best-of-five series over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Yeah, 2020 has been really weird for many people, for the whole hockey world, and that’s why we’re here, too,” Canadiens forward Phillip Danault said, noting how a year ago Montreal fell one point short from qualifying for the postseason. “Yes, we had a bit of luck to be in the playoffs. But obviously, I think anything can happen.”

The Flyers and Canadiens have split their previous six playoff meetings, with Philadelphia most recently beating Montreal in five games in the 2010 conference finals.

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