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Cooper wins first as Lightning coach in shootout

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- Steve Stamkos is one of the NHL's most feared snipers. But the two-time Rocket Richard winner knows how to be a playmaker as well.

Stamkos could have tried for his third goal of the night with time winding down in regulation and the Tampa Bay Lightning scrambling for the tying goal against the New Jersey Devils. Instead, he found a wide-open Alex Killorn in the right circle for the tying goal with 15.1 seconds left to force overtime -- and shootout goals by Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman gave the Lightning a 5-4 victory in new coach Jon Cooper's debut behind the bench.

Stamkos, the NHL leader with 25 goals after his pair on Friday night, crossed up the defense with his perfect feed.

"I think a lot of people expected me to shoot and I love shooting, but on that play I knew that lane was open," Stamkos said. "I knew that we had a left-handed shot there -- until I picked my head up I didn't know if it was Marty [St. Louis] or Killorn -- but I knew the lane was there. It was nice to see it go in. Maybe now they'll start to take away the pass and I can shoot it next time."

Across the ice, Killorn was thinking the same thing.

"Usually when there is that much time in the game, goalies will be cheating a little bit toward Stamkos because they know he's a shooter," the rookie forward said. "He saw me and he gave me a great pass and I knew I had a lot of net but I had to get some wood on it. [Goaltender Martin] Brodeur was watching Stamkos, definitely."

Killorn's goal was meaningful to Cooper for an entirely different reason.

"It's fitting that one of my minor-league guys got the tying goal," said Cooper, who coached Killorn with the Lightning's AHL farm team in Syracuse and led Norfolk, Tampa Bay's affiliate last season, to the Calder Cup and a 28-game winning streak.

The Lightning trailed 2-0 and 4-2 as the Devils scored goals at even strength, on a power play, shorthanded and on a penalty shot. Purcell and Hedman then scored against Brodeur in the shootout while Mathieu Garon stopped Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias.

The single point gave the seventh-place Devils a three-point lead on the New York Rangers and Islanders in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"It's disappointing when you're 15 seconds from getting two points but at the same time, we put points in the bank and keep moving forward," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said.

New Jersey is 2-6 in shootouts -- including 0-3 with Brodeur, whose 42 wins in the tiebreaker are the second-most all-time.

"It's unbelievable," Brodeur said. "I haven't practiced at all. I've got to bring myself to get out there and practice it more. I haven't been playing much and we don't practice a lot, but it's something we have to start doing. These are tons of great points we're laying out on the table. We have too much talent to let go of these kind of points."

The victory extended Tampa Bay's home winning streak to four games. The Lightning (15-18-1) are four points out of the eighth and final playoff berth.

New Jersey [15-11-8] began the third period with a 3-2 lead and promptly reopened a two-goal advantage for the second time at 2:39 on an unassisted shorthanded goal by Ryan Carter. He intercepted a pass from Stamkos and broke down the left side, firing the puck behind Garon from the top of the left circle.

Stamkos' second goal of the game at 7:11 cut New Jersey's advantage to 4-3.

After a conservatively played and scoreless first period, both teams opened up in the second, combining for 18 shots on net and five goals.

New Jersey opened the scoring 5:50 into the period when Andrei Loktionov took a drop pass from Matt D'Agostini and beat Garon for his seventh goal of the season. Andy Greene also got an assist.

Fifty-nine seconds later, New Jersey extended its lead to 2-0 when Tom Kostopoulos rifled a wrister past Garon on a penalty shot he was awarded after Hedman hooked him from behind as he broke in alone.

That two-goal advantage disappeared quickly as Tampa Bay scored twice in a span of 2:28. Stamkos knocked the puck out of the air and behind Brodeur after the goaltender made a sprawling pad save on the first scoring attempt. Keith Aulie and St. Louis assisted.

The equalizer came when Richard Panik sent an airborne breakout pass from the Lightning defensive zone that Nate Thompson corralled as he broke between two defenders before slipping slipped the puck into the net from Brodeur's left. It was Thompson's seventh goal of the season.

Greene put the Devils back in front with a power-play goal at 13:58.

Each goalie faced 25 shots and made 21 saves.

It was a rewarding night for Cooper, who was hired Monday -- one day after Guy Boucher was fired. The former coach of the organization's AHL team watched the Lightning beat Buffalo on Tuesday before taking over behind the bench Friday.

After Friday's win, his feet were barely touching the ground.

"Wow! How about that?" Cooper said in his first postgame media scrum as an NHL coach. "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.

"It turns out to be an individual skill contest at the end," Cooper said. "We held a shootout in practice just for fun and Hedman won the shootout, so I knew he was going to go out there. I was like, ‘Stay hot, Hedman', and then Teddy [Purcell] – he's a USHL guy – that was what it was coming down to, let's give Teddy a shot."

It was a night he'll never forget.

"I would tell everyone, some people say, ‘Well, hockey is different to watch on TV'," Cooper said, "but it is the most exciting sport to watch live."

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