Lightning wins Cooper's coaching debut

Lightning coach Jon Cooper instructs a group that includes Victor Hedman, left, and Sami Salo during a first-period break.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper instructs a group that includes Victor Hedman, left, and Sami Salo during a first-period break.
Published March 30, 2013

TAMPA — As a master motivator, and former defense attorney, new Lightning coach Jon Cooper has a way with words.

But Cooper didn't need many to succinctly describe his unforgettable NHL coaching debut Friday, a 5-4 shootout win over the Devils in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"Wow," Cooper said, smiling. "How about that?"

The Lightning (15-18-1) said it embodied the swagger of its 45-year-old coach, overcoming two two-goal deficits against future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur. Alex Killorn, who scored the tying goal with 15.1 seconds left in regulation, said the comeback was similar to a lot of the "character wins" Cooper sparked while leading Tampa Bay's AHL team, for which Killorn played.

And Cooper had the magic touch in the shootout. The first two players he picked to go, Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman, scored, and goalie Mathieu Garon stood tall with two saves.

"That was a lot of fun," Cooper said. "I'm going to remember this one for a long, long time."

Cooper looked relaxed in the hours before the game, including cracking players up with jokes at the morning skate. He said that inside he felt the opposite, experiencing a "wave of emotions" in a week that has included a few sleepless nights since he was hired Monday to replace fired Guy Boucher.

But the butterflies didn't hit him until he found himself alone in the coaches office during warmups. "I'm like, 'Wow, I'm nervous,' " he said. "I'm like, 'Come on, somebody come in the room,' and nobody walked in. But as soon as the puck drops, all of a sudden you're in your element and it was over."

Cooper knew it wasn't over after the Devils scored two goals in 51 seconds in the second period to lead 2-0. Tampa Bay answered a couple of minutes later, scoring twice in 2:26. That included Nate Thompson darting between two Devils for a partial breakaway goal.

"He epitomized what we were (Friday)," Cooper said. "He lifted our team when he scored that goal. There was just no give-up in him."

And when New Jersey went up 4-2 early in the third, Cooper reminded his team it already had erased a two-goal deficit. "I think that's what gave us that little boost and second wind," rookie Cory Conacher said. Said Killorn: "We all rallied behind (Cooper)."

Steven Stamkos' second goal of the game, his league-leading 25th, brought Tampa Bay within 4-3. A final-minute flurry with Garon pulled forced overtime, with Stamkos' spectacular cross-zone pass setting up Killorn's one-timer. Quipped Stamkos: " 'Coop' got all the nerves out of the way tonight."

Lightning wins shootout 2-0
Lightning wins shootout 2-0

First PeriodNone. PenaltiesAulie, TB (interference), 3:01; Kostopoulos, NJ, major (fighting), 12:06; Fayne, NJ (tripping), 12:06; Gudas, TB, major (fighting), 12:06.

Second Period1, NJ, Loktionov 7 (D'Agostini, Greene), 5:50. 2, NJ, Kostopoulos 1 (penalty shot), 6:41. 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 24 (St. Louis, Aulie), 8:00. 4, Tampa Bay, Thompson 7 (Panik, Gudas), 10:26. 5, NJ, Greene 3 (D'Agostini, Zidlicky), 13:58 (pp). PenaltiesAulie, TB (high-sticking), 12:38; Brewer, TB (hooking), 14:19; Stamkos, TB (interference), 16:53.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Third Period6, NJ, Carter 4, 2:39 (sh). 7, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 25 (Killorn), 7:11. 8, Tampa Bay, Killorn 5 (Stamkos, Carle), 19:44. PenaltiesSalvador, NJ (tripping), 1:52; Gudas, TB (goaltender interference), 8:20.

OTNone. PenaltiesD'Agostini, NJ (holding), 1:34. ShootoutNJ 0 (Zajac NG, Elias NG), Tampa Bay 2 (Purcell G, Hedman G). Shots on GoalNJ 7-10-7-1—25. Tampa Bay 5-8-9-3—25. Power-play opportunitiesNJ 1 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. GoaliesNJ, Brodeur 10-2-5 (25 shots-21 saves). Tampa Bay, Garon 5-8-0 (25-21).