John Cooper stepped back and took a possible missed call to the rearview mirror with the experience of a coach who’s been here before. Colleague Jared Bednar, on the cusp of his first NHL championship, was eager to settle the matter once and for all and move on.
However, the Stanley Cup finals are fast approaching a conclusion full of uncertainty about the judging, which spotlight for all the wrong reasons after Nazem Kadri goal in overtime led the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 in best-of-seven series.
The goal came with what Cooper and his Tampa Bay Lightning thought too many men on the ice. No penalty was awarded and the Avalanche are now one win away from knocking down the defending champions.
“Can one call change the situation in the series? No,” Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr said in a phone interview. Colorado were the best team in overtime, there’s no doubt about that. Do you hope it doesn’t end with a play like this? Yeah. You hope it’s something nice and clean and simple because instead of talking about what a good hockey game it was, everyone is talking about the game.”
Kadri participated in the play in question – plays its first game of the final after injured right thumb — jumps onto the ice to change lane early when teammate Nathan McKinnon is still about 40 feet from the bench. When Kadri scored, McKinnon still had a skate on the ice, and the joining player in such a situation should not even have touched the puck.
“Players, we’re looking every inch to get an edge and try to jump into the game when you know a substitution is coming,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said Thursday. “You can’t say what the right decision is. It’s so fast and it probably happens a million times a game more often than we think.”
Officials have some leeway in judging too many players on the ice, and Tampa Bay technically had seven, although the players swapping for each other were much closer to the home bench.
“You change on the fly, stuff happens,” Bednar said. “I counted 7-6 at one point, so that’s it. This is how the game is played. I don’t see a break or a break in this. I really see it as nothing.”
In a statement sent to the Associated Press following the Colorado’s 3-2 win, the league’s Department of Hockey Operations deemed it judgment.
“When discussing the winning goal, each of the four referees said they did not see too many people on the ice in the game,” the statement said. “This challenge is not subject to video review by either Hockey Ops or on-ice officials.”
Should it be?
In 2015, the NHL expanded video review to include coach calls for offside and goaltender interference. Incidents in the 2019 playoffs have resulted in more situations that coaches and officials can pay special attention to in the name of making the right decision, although this is limited to potential stoppages such as a handball or a puck hitting a safety net over the glass.
But at a time when video reviews are disrupting games in all sports and leagues are working to cut those extra minutes of precious time, the NHL is unlikely to have the desire to replay EVERYTHING.
General managers will no doubt discuss this at the Montreal draft next month, and perhaps the long-discussed so-called eye-to-the-sky third referee concept will gain momentum. It could solve at least the most obvious missed calls, which could be seen and caught better from the top of the arena than in the middle of all the action on the ice.
“They have the toughest jobs in the sport,” Fuhr said of NHL officials. “The game is bigger, faster, and they need to keep up, and there will be missed calls along the way. It’s just hockey.”
Hotly debated challenges have long been a part of hockey, and many New York Islanders fans were quick to point out that the Lightning had too many people on the ice for a single goal in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia Flyers fans still remember the “Leon Stick game” when a linesman of that name missed a clear offside against the Islanders in the 1980 decider in their first of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.
Hall of Famer Brian Trottier, star of the Islanders dynasty who won his seventh cup title as an assistant to the Avalanche in 2001 and coaches in the new 3ICE 3-on-3 league with Fuhr, said winning is about managing a “lucky rebound “. random bounce, referee’s signal: something that can happen out of your control just goes against you.”
“These things can go both against you and against you,” Trottier said. “You should take advantage when they come at you and you should just move on when they come against you.”
Another judgment earlier in Game 4 allowed a Lightning goal to be awarded after a puck thrown at Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kemper knocked off his mask, with officials choosing not to stop the game because the rulebook says it must continue if there is a possibility of scoring.
Before flying to Denver for Game 5 on Friday, with his team down 3-1, Cooper tried to move on. A little over 12 hours after nearly speechless, he called hockey an “inexact science” and tried to distance himself – in a way – from how Game 4 ended.
“What’s good about today is that it’s not yesterday,” Cooper said. “There is nothing we can do to turn back. They missed it. Unfortunately, but now it’s water under the bridge. Let’s get ready.”
Stephen Wyno, Associated Press