Welcome to the National Hockey League Jon Cooper.
Making his NHL head coaching debut on Friday night, Cooper pushed all the right buttons in watching his Tampa Bay Lightning climb back from a pair of two-goal deficits to defeat the New Jersey Devils 5-4 in a shootout at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Steven Stamkos scored twice and had three points, Alex Killorn added a goal and an assist, and Mathieu Garon made 21 saves for Tampa Bay, which won its second straight game and for the fourth consecutive time on home ice.
“It’s a wave of emotions,” Cooper said on earning his first win. “From 17 seconds left to 15 seconds left was unbelievable. It’s all like it happened in slow motion.”
Teddy Purcell registered the game-winner in the tiebreaker and Nate Thompson had the other goal for the Lightning, which pulled to within four points of the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Andrei Loktionov, Tom Kostopoulos and Ryan Carter each scored for New Jersey, while Andy Greene had a goal and an assist in the loss.
Matt D’Agostini chipped in two assists as well for the Devils, which got 21 saves from Martin Brodeur.
New Jersey dropped its second straight.
After Stamkos’ second of the night brought the Lightning to within one at 4-3, Killorn completed the comeback in dramatic fashion when he took a perfect cross-ice feed from Stamkos and wristed it into an open cage to tie things at 4-4 with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It’s disappointing when you’re 15 seconds from getting two points,” Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’ll just put our one point in the bank and keep moving forward.”
After the overtime period didn’t solve anything, Purcell and Victor Hedman each scored in the shootout, while at the other end, Garon denied both of New Jersey’s attempts, including that of Patrik Elias with a poke check that sealed the win for the Bolts.
“We were down twice,” Cooper said. “Each time, I couldn’t believe the amount of guys that were stepping up.”
Both teams made it clear early that they wouldn’t give much to the opponent, a display that culminated in a 0-0 deadlock at the end of 20 minutes, with shots 7-5 in favor of New Jersey.
But after a scoreless first, Loktionov opened the scoring after beating Garon from below the left circle to make it 1-0 Devils at 5:50 of the second.
New Jersey then doubled the advantage after Kostopoulos converted on a penalty shot as a result of a phantom hooking call against Victor Hedman.
“We did some good stuff tonight in a tough environment, got off to an early start, but we know we could have been better,” DeBoer said. “We’ll just take the positives out of it.”
The pair of goals came in a span of just 51 seconds, but didn’t last long.
Tampa Bay came within one after Stamkos scored from in close at the eight-minute mark, and Thompson knotted things up 2-2 when he split a pair of Devils defenders and beat Brodeur on a breakaway just 2:26 later.
Greene’s goal on the power play at 13:58 capped off the second period scoring, reclaiming the Devils lead and giving the visitors a 3-2 advantage heading into the third and final stanza.
That’s how it stayed until Carter made it 4-2 on a shorthanded goal, leaving Tampa Bay down by a pair with approximately 17 minutes to play in regulation.
Even a few bad breaks, however, couldn’t discourage the Lightning.
Cory Conacher nearly had a goal but his shot was turned back by Brodeur and appeared to come to a dead stop beside the goal post before being cleared out of harm’s way. Moments later, Martin St. Louis also came close to scoring, but his shot hit the crossbar.
In the end though, it didn’t turn out to matter, as the Bolts completed the comeback and came away with the victory.
“We were ringing pucks off posts and we just kept getting better as the game went on,” Cooper added. “It was a lot of fun. I’m going to remember this for a long, long time.”