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Cooper debuts behind bench as Lightning host Devils

by Brian Hunter

DEVILS (15-11-7) at LIGHTNING (14-18-1)


Last 10: New Jersey 5-3-2; Tampa Bay 4-6-0

Season series: Third and final meeting of the regular season, and the first at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The teams have split a pair of games in New Jersey. Patrik Elias (2-2-4) leads the Devils in scoring, while Nate Thompson (3-1-4) and Martin St. Louis (1-3-4) pace the Lightning.

Big story: New Jersey will be playing its second game since losing star forward Ilya Kovalchuk. Tampa Bay will be playing its second game since naming Jon Cooper as its new coach.

Team Scope:

Devils: Following a poor start, New Jersey actually dominated large stretches of Monday's game in Ottawa, outshooting the Senators by a 34-14 margin. Still, the Devils never actually managed to hold a lead, rallying twice on goals by Andrei Loktionov and Marek Zidlicky, but ultimately dropping a 3-2 decision via the shootout. Martin Brodeur has allowed just four goals in three starts since returning from a back injury, though he's faced just 50 shots and no more than 18 in a single game. The Devils have outshot their opposition in 14 consecutive games.

"Ottawa is a quick-starting team, especially in this building," coach Peter DeBoer said in the Newark Star-Ledger. "We knew that and we didn't handle it well the first five or six minutes. I thought from that point on we were the better team. We couldn't get two points but we'll take the one and keep moving."

Lightning: Cooper will make his NHL debut behind the bench Friday night with Tampa Bay shooting for a second consecutive win after beating Buffalo on Tuesday with Cooper watching. It was a matchup of teams that haven't given up their hopes of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs yet, but desperately need points. Tampa Bay will rely heavily on name players like Steven Stamkos and St. Louis down the stretch, and each scored a goal in a 2-1 victory. The Lightning allowed just 14 shots, and Mathieu Garon made the necessary saves.

"We worked extremely hard, made plays and executed," Stamkos said. "It was a great win for us. It's always nice to get back in the win column."

Who's hot: Andrei Loktionov has goals in three of his past five games for the Devils. Brodeur has lost just twice in regulation in 16 starts (10-2-4). … Stamkos, the League's goal-scoring leader with 23, has hit the back of the net in consecutive games.

Injury report: New Jersey lost defenseman Bryce Salvador to a lower-body injury and forward Stephen Gionta to an upper-body injury during Monday's game, but both traveled with the team to Florida and could play Friday. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder (lower body) and forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky (lower body) and Dainius Zubrus (wrist) are all on injured reserve, but close to returning. Kovalchuk (shoulder) isn't expected back until mid-to-late April. … Tampa Bay forward B.J. Crombeen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Goalie Anders Lindback (ankle) and forwards Vincent Lecavalier (lower body), Ryan Malone (shoulder) and Pierre-Cedric Labrie (upper body) are on injured reserve.

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