Despite Tampa Bay toiling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the New Jersey Devils expect a motivated team when they take the ice tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
New Jersey will welcome new Lightning coach Jon Cooper to the league as they look to win the third and final game of the season series.
“With a new coach, you’re going to get a real push by Tampa to impress their new guy and they’re a tough team to deal with on any night, never mind given those circumstances,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record.
Cooper was hired Monday after Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman fired coach Guy Boucher. In two-plus seasons, Boucher went 97-79-20 with one playoff appearance. The Lightning won 13 games before firing their coach, and sit six points out of the playoffs with 15 games remaining.
Cooper takes over after leading Tampa Bay’s minor league affiliate the past year-plus. He led the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup last season, and spent considerable time with many of the players on the current Lightning roster as the coach for the Syracuse Crunch.
The Lightning snapped a three-game losing streak Tuesday night in a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis recorded multi-point games for Tampa Bay. Mathieu Garon needed 13 saves for the win.
Garon will start for the fourth time in five games tonight. In six games against New Jersey, Garon is 2-2-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.
The Lightning and Devils have split two games this season. Tampa Bay won the most recent matchup, 5-2, on March 5. The Lightning extended the Devils season-long losing streak in that win, knocking New Jersey down to its sixth straight loss. Nate Thompson led them with three points (2g, 1a). Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique scored for the Devils in the loss.
Thompson leads all skaters in the series with three goals and four points. St. Louis leads all skaters with three assists and is tied with Thompson with four points.
The Devils enter tonight sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 37 points. They lead the eighth-place New York Rangers by two points and trail the sixth-place Toronto Maple Leafs by five points.
New Jersey got a point after a come-from-behind 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators Monday. New Jersey twice came back from one goal deficits, but lost its fifth shootout game of the season. Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Zibanejad scored for Ottawa in the shootout, beating Martin Brodeur. Travis Zajac was the lone Devils skater to beat Ben Bishop in the shootout.
Brodeur will start his fourth straight start. He won the first meeting between the two teams this season, stopping 17 shots.
Injured right wing Alexei Ponikarovsky will return for tonight’s game. He missed four games with a lower body injury.