Alex Killorn scored a tying goal with 15.1 seconds left in regulation, leading to Tampa Bay’s 5-4 shootout victory to give Cooper a successful debut in his first game behind the Lightning bench.
Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman each converted shootout attempts as Tampa Bay twice rallied from down two goals for the victory in front of an announced Forum crowd of 19,204.
Tampa Bay moved to within four points of a playoff spot with 14 games remaining.
Steven Stamkos scored twice to give him a league-leading 25 goals on the season, while his cross-ice pass to Killorn helped send the game into the extra session. Nate Thompson added his seventh of the season, while Mathieu Garon shook off a shaky regulation showing to stop both shootout attempts for the victory.
It made for a night Cooper won’t soon forget.
“Wow, how about that,’’ Cooper said with a laugh as he opened his postgame remarks. “That was a lot of fun. I’m going to remember this one for a long, long time.’’
The game seemed destined to be more of a downer, as New Jersey twice opened up two-goal leads. And in the history of Devils hockey during the Martin Brodeur era, two-goal leads are generally about as safe as a vault at Fort Knox.
But just as he Lightning did in the previous two years under Guy Boucher, they showed strong character to stick with the game plan and keep fighting back.
The tying goal was a product of that, as Tampa Bay moved the puck around well in the New Jersey zone before Matt Carle eventually was able to get a pass in the center slot over to Stamkos inside the left circle. With everybody in the building – save one – thinking Stamkos was looking for the hat trick, he was able to slide a hard cross-ice pass through a seam right onto the tape of Killorn, who had an empty half of the net to put the puck into.
“To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking shoot the whole time, I saw that lane was open and I knew it was either going to be Marty (St. Louis) or Killer there, a left-handed shot, and Brodeur was cheating (to the right post) a lot,’’ Stamkos said. “It was a hard pass, and I was thankful Killer got a lot of wood on it. And again, no quit in this team.’’
It only seemed appropriate that it turned out to be somebody like Killorn, a player Cooper helped groom to get to the NHL level, who wound up scoring the biggest goal in Cooper’s debut.
“This (comeback) sort of comes from (Cooper) and the confidence he projects,’’ Killorn said. “When you have a confident coach, you just kind of rally behind him. And we were down for most of the game, but at no point do I think anybody thought we were going to lose.’’
New Jersey scored twice in the early part of the second period, first on Andrei Loktionov’s wrist shot from the left circle at 5:50, then on Tom Kostopoulos’ penalty shot conversion at 6:41. Stamkos batted in his own rebound at 8:00 before Thompson tied the score, getting in tight to lift a puck over Brodeur while fighting off two New Jersey defenders.
But the Devils regained the lead on Andy Greene’s power-play goal, another long-range wrist shot at 13:58 of the second, while Ryan Carter’s shorthanded goal 2:39 into the third restored the two-goal lead. Stamkos cut the deficit back to one with a bad-angle shot at 7:11 to help set up the dramatic finish.
“You kind of got a taste of everything, Thompson’s blue-chip goal, Stammer the way he scores them, and then the art of the game with Killer’s,” Cooper said. “You had the full mix of just keep plugging away and good things will happen.’’