Jon Cooper is undefeated as an NHL coach.
It took overtime and a shootout, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were victorious in Cooper’s first game behind the bench on Friday night against the New Jersey Devils. Steven Stamkos scored two goals, and the Lightning overcame another poor performance in net by Mathieu Garon to pick up a 5-4 victory.
Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman scored in the first two rounds of the shootout for a comfortable 2-0 victory.
All in all, the Lightning put forth a strong effort against New Jersey, playing aggressively and creating lots of scoring chances around Martin Brodeur. Brodeur was spectacular in goal for the Devils, making several incredible saves to stop goals.
Unfortunately for him, the quality of Lightning chances became too difficult to stop.
Interestingly enough, Garon and Brodeur each made 21 saves on 25 shots. However, it was clear throughout that Brodeur had come to play and Garon had not. Three of the first four goals the Devils scored were of the “soft” variety, as Garon blew opportunities at easy saves and allowed goals.
Andrei Loktionov opened the scoring in the second period with his 7th goal of the year, beating Garon to the glove side. Tom Kostopoulos scored a little more than a minute later on a penalty shot, a forgivable goal on Garon’s part.
Stamkos’ 24th less than two minutes later cut the lead to one, and Nate Thompson’s breakaway goal (7) tied the game. However, New Jersey, who had five power plays in the game, including four in the second period, took the lead back on Andy Greene’s power play goal (3).
In the third, Garon and the Lightning allowed a weak shorthanded goal to Ryan Carter (4) to open things up. They then spent the rest of the game digging from their hole, getting a league-leading 25th goal from Stamkos, his second of the game, to cut the lead to one.
Alex Killorn (5) tied it with just 15 seconds left, taking a beautiful feed from Stamkos, who gave up the shot to let Killorn tie the game.
Overtime went by without a score despite a power play chance for Tampa Bay. Then, Garon made two big saves in the shootout to aid the victory.
It was a tumultuous ride for the Lightning on Friday night in Cooper’s first game as head coach, but it is one he’ll never forget.
“Wow! How about that?” Cooper said after the game. “We had chances; we didn’t give up a whole like. We were ringing them off posts. We just got better as the game went on. That was a lot of fun. I’m going to remember this one for a long, long time.”
The Lightning hope to continue improving under Cooper, and it was clear in his first game that the effort was amped up to another level that the Lightning have not shown much this season. The only thing holding the team back now is Garon and his poor goaltending.
They’ll have some time to adjust to their new coach, as Tampa Bay plays just one game in the next five days. Their next game will come Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Devils are back at it on Saturday night against those same Panthers. The game will get underway from Sunrise, Fla., at 7:30 p.m. ET.