TAMPA, Fla. — If it was an illegal line switch, it wasn’t the first a team has gotten away with in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, many will remember that the Tampa Bay Lightning got away with one themselves last year.
But an emotional Lightning coach Jon Cooper made the possibly-missed call a focus Wednesday night after coming in the most consequential moments – in overtime to help the Colorado Avalanche win 3-2 and a 3: 1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals – and said his team “should still be playing” rather than digesting a damaging defeat that severely dented his hopes of a three-pointer.
Nazem Kadri dramatically capped his accelerated return from thumb surgery in the contentious game, levitating a beauty past Andrei Vasilevskiy 12 minutes, 2 seconds into OT, at the end of an 11-second shift that Cooper used to hint that the Avalanche might have been kicked off should too many men on the ice.
The legal five skaters were on the ice when Kadri scored, but replays show the Avs capitalized on at least one generous line change and at most one illegal line change.
Nazem Kadri scores the biggest goal of his career pic.twitter.com/58eKHjWEZs
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) June 23, 2022
Kadri was four seconds on the ice and had possession of the puck along the blue line when the man he was substituted on – an idle Nathan MacKinnon – finally got on the bench. It seems in the replay that Kadri thought he was substituting for Valeri Nichushkin, who ended up staying on the ice and getting involved in the game. MacKinnon was still on the ice on the bench along the blue line when Kadri ran into the offensive zone with the puck.
Kadri’s goal gave the Avalanche a win after their third Stanley Cup title and first since 2001, with Game 5 in Denver on Friday night.
“You’ll see what I mean when you see the winning goal. My heart breaks for the players because we probably should still be playing.”
Jon Cooper only answered one question after the game and was obviously not happy with the Avalanche’s OT winning goal. pic.twitter.com/g6DAwp475i
– Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 23, 2022
“I love this league,” Cooper said in a stream of consciousness monologue that he eventually broke off before leaving the podium. “It’s the biggest league in the world. The people who run it are amazing. all about it It’s like a dream come true for me, especially as a Canadian kid, growing up and everything that’s happened. … You know, I’ve been part of some heartbreaking losses and defeats to the teams that knocked us out and been with a group that just fights, fights and fights. And they fought their way to a third straight Stanley Cup final. And in a Cap era…when it’s so damn hard and the rules are thrown against you because the league wants par.
“And that’s what I love about the league. And that makes it harder. And just look at this team, what they’ve been through and how they’ve struggled. And we’re all in it together: players, coaches, everyone. But this one is going to sting a lot more than others just because it… it probably was… I don’t know. It’s hard for me. It will be difficult for me to speak. I will have to speak. … You’ll see what I mean when you see the winning goal. And my heart beats for the players. Because we should probably still be playing. I’m available (Thursday).”
This is the most devastating footage I’ve seen so far.
When Nazem Kadri (the winning goalscorer) hits the ice, MacKinnon takes over 5 seconds to get back on the bench and he’s clearly a lot further than 5ft away. pic.twitter.com/9ede4C6ZCU
— Kailey Mizelle (@KaileyMizelle) June 23, 2022
Aware of the controversy after the game, the NHL spoke to the four officials on the ice. Any of the four can make the call. In a statement provided the athletethe league said, “A penalty for too many men on the ice is a verdict.”
“After the game, Hockey Operations met with the four officials as is their normal protocol,” the league said. “When discussing the winning goal, each of the four officials advised that they don’t see a situation with too many men on the ice in the game. This call is not subject to video review by either hockey ops or officials on the ice.”
Per the NHL Rulebook, players may be substituted at any time during the game provided they are within 5 feet of the bench and not in play when the substitution is made. “Should, at the discretion of on-ice officials, a substitute come onto the ice before his teammate is within the five-foot limit of the player’s bench (and therefore clearly causing his team to have too many players), then a bench a minor penalty may be imposed. If a player retires from the ice and is within the five foot limit of his players’ bench and his substitute is on the ice, then the retiring player is deemed to be off the ice. If, during a substitution, either the player coming into play or the player conceding plays the puck or checks an opposing player or makes physical contact with an opposing player while both players involved in the substitution are on the ice, then if this is a violation shout ‘Too many men on the ice’.”
Two former NHL umpires contacted by the athlete who examined the video said that in their opinion this game was not too many men. A former linesman said that although it is tight, there are frequent loose line changes and very few officials would have messed up such a game in overtime. He also noted that the Lightning had seven players on the ice, including two players on the bench, like MacKinnon, with the players who came for them also involved in play.
Adding to the post-game confusion, the first game report featured six Avalanche skaters on the ice for the winning goal, with the sixth being defenseman Erik Johnson. However, replays show that it was actually an honest and accidental error because Johnson was never on the ice before or during the winning goal.
Ironically, The Lightning’s Ondrej Palat scored a goal in Game 2 of Tampa Bay’s playoff series against the New York Islanders with seven players in the game last postseason. The officials missed and the goal counted.
Lightning had too many men in the go-ahead goal. Barry Defiance after watching the replay: “Seven damn boys. There are seven guys on the ice. On the damn gate. It’s right there.” pic.twitter.com/CsLyoNq9c6
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) June 16, 2021
While the end of Game 4 on Wednesday was disputed, the reality was that the Avalanche rebounded from two one-goal deficits with goals from MacKinnon and Andrew Cogliano and were by far the better team in overtime. They outplayed Tampa Bay 10-3 in overtime, and that doesn’t include a hit post from Artturi Lehkonen and a hit off the crossbar from Bowen Byram.
“I’m not exactly sure what he thinks as to why it shouldn’t have counted,” Kadri said upon learning of Cooper’s comments. “That confuses me a bit. The puck hit the back of the net, end of story. I’m not sure why he would say that.”
The reality is that there have been far worse overman situations that teams have gotten away with. And it’s not like Kadri scored at a breakaway. He ran one to three into the Lightning zone.
Regardless, the Lightning had better forget that quickly and move on from the dubious nature of Game 4’s ending, as Cooper pretended the series ended on Wednesday.
If they don’t get past that, the series ends Friday and the Avs will hoist the Lord Stanley’s Cup.
(Photo: Geoff Burke / USA Today)