Jon Cooper walked back and shifted a possibly missed call to the rearview mirror with the expertise of a coach who has been here before. Counterpart Jared Bednar, on the brink of his first NHL championship, tried to settle the matter once and for all and move on.
Still, the Stanley Cup final is roaring to a conclusion filled with uncertainty over the lead, who will be in the spotlights for all the wrong reasons after that Nazem Kadri‘s overtime goal set the Colorado avalanche 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
The goal came with some Cooper and his Tampa Bay Lightning thought was too many men on the ice. No penalty was given and now the Avalanche are one win away from beating the defending champions.
“Will one phone call make all the difference in the series? No,” Hall of Fame goalkeeper Grant Fuhr said in a telephone interview. “Colorado was the better team in extra time, there is no doubt about that. You hope it doesn’t end with a play like that? Yes. You hope it’s something nice and clean and simple, because instead of talking about what a good hockey game it was, everyone’s talking about the game.”
The piece in question involved Kadri – plays his first match of the final after injured his right thumb — jumping on the ice early for a line change, with teammate Nathan MacKinnon still about 40 feet off the bench. When Kadri scored, MacKinnon had one more skate on the ice, and in that situation, the player signing up is not even allowed to touch the puck.
“Players, we look every inch to gain an advantage and try to jump into the game when you know your change is coming,” Lightning defender Ryan McDonagh said on Thursday. “It’s impossible to say what the right decision is there. It’s so fast and it probably happens a million times more per game than we think.”
There is some wiggle room for officials to judge too many men on the ice, and Tampa Bay technically had seven, although the players substitutions were much closer to the home bench.
“You change on the fly, everything happens,” Bednar said. “I count 7-6 at one point, so that’s it. That’s how the game is played. I don’t see it as a break or a non-break. I actually see it as nothing.”
In a statement sent to The Associated Press after Colorado’s 3-2 win, the league’s Department of Hockey Operations deemed it a decision.
“In discussing the winning goal, the four officials advised not to see too many men on the ice during the game,” the statement read. “This call is not subject to video review by Hockey Ops or the officials on the ice.”
Should it be?
The NHL expanded the video review in 2015 to include the coach’s challenges for offside and goalkeeper interference. Incidents in the 2019 playoffs led to more situations for coaches and officials to look extra into to get it right, although it’s limited to potential interruptions such as a hand pass or the puck hitting the protective net above the glass.
But at a time when video reviews are a barrier to games in all sports and leagues are working to cut down on those extra minutes of precious time, there’s hardly any hunger for the NHL to get EVERYTHING to be played again.
General managers will no doubt discuss this at the draft in Montreal next month, and perhaps the much-discussed, so-called “eye in the sky” concept of the third referee will pick up steam. That could at least address the most obvious missed calls that might be better seen and caught from an arena than amid all the action on the ice.
“They have the hardest job in the sport,” Fuhr said of NHL officials. “The game has gotten bigger and faster and they have to keep up and there will be missed calls along the way. That’s just hockey.”
Fierce discussions have long been a part of hockey, and many New York Islanders fans were quick to point out that the Lightning appeared to have too many men on the ice for the lone goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Finals. conference last year. Philadelphia Flyers fans are still bringing up the “Leon Stickle Game” when the linesman of that name missed a clear offside on an Islanders goal in the 1980 clinch game of their first of four Stanley Cup championships in a row .
Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, a star of that Islanders dynasty who won his seventh Cup title in 2001 as an Avalanche assistant and coaches in the new 3ICE 3-on-3 league with Fuhr, said winning is about managing ” the lucky bounce, the accidental bounce, the referee call: something that can happen that you have no control over and that just goes against you.”
“Those things can be for or against you,” Trottier said. “You have to take advantage when they go for you, and you just have to keep going when they go against you.”
Another decision earlier in Game 4 allowed a Lightning goal to count after the puck knocked off avalanche goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper’s mask, with the umpires deciding not to stop play because the rules say it must continue if there is a scoring opportunity is underway.
Before flying to Denver on Friday for Game 5 with his team trailing 3-1, Cooper tried to move on. Just over 12 hours since he was nearly speechless, he called hockey “an inaccurate science” and tried to distance himself — sort of — from how Game 4 ended.
“The great thing about today is that it’s not yesterday,” Cooper said. “We can’t do anything to get back. They missed it. It’s a shame, but it’s water under the bridge now. Let’s get ready.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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