TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper held a short and tense press conference after their loss in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday night during which he questioned the legality of Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri’s game-winning goal in overtime.
Cooper raved for a minute about his love of the NHL and his team’s journey to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships before focusing on Kadri’s goal 12:02 into overtime, which gave the Avalanche a 3-1 series lead.
“That one is going to sting a lot more than the others, just because he was taking…it was potentially…I don’t know…it’s hard for me. It’s going to be hard for me to speak . I’ll have to talk. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” he said. “You’ll see what I mean when you see the winning goal. And my heart breaks for the players. Because we should probably still play.”
With that, Cooper apologized after just one question.
Post-game speculation was that the Lightning thought the Avalanche had six skaters on the ice before the game-winning goal was scored. There were camera angles that showed six Colorado skaters on the ice as Kadri picked up a pass, skated into the area and beat goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for the 3-2 win.
The question was whether Nathan MacKinnon was close enough to the Avalanche bench to be considered a “retired player” when his teammate jumped onto the ice and entered the game. Skaters must be at less than 5 feet from the bench and out of play before a substitution is made.
“Too many men on the ice penalty is a judgment that can be made by any of the four on-ice officials,” NHL Hockey Operations said in a statement. “After the game, Hockey Operations met with the four officials, as is their usual protocol. In discussing the winning goal, each of the four officials indicated that they had not seen too many men on the ice during the game.”
Too many men on the ice have infractions that are not reviewable, even when a goal is scored.
Fueling conspiracy theories: The NHL distributed a score sheet to the media that had six skaters signed up for the Avalanche on Kadri’s game-winner, then edited that score sheet to list five inline skaters.
The NHL said an extra player, defenseman Erik Johnson, may have ended up on the initial scoresheet due to players jumping off the bench to celebrate Kadri’s goal.
Kadri seemed puzzled by Cooper’s rebuke after the match.
“I’m not sure what he really was, what he thought why it shouldn’t have counted. It kinda confuses me,” said Kadri, who played his first game of the series after suffering thumb. surgery in the Western Conference Finals. “The puck hit the back of the net, end of story, so I don’t know why he would say that.”
Cooper began his press conference by talking about his team’s quick start before quickly explaining how difficult the Lightning’s championship run has been while criticizing the NHL’s salary cap system.
“You know, I love this league. It’s the greatest 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 young Canadian growing up and everything that happened,” he said.
“You know, I’ve been part of heartbreaking losses and defeats to the teams that knocked us out, and I’ve been with a group that just fights, fights and fights. And they fought for a third Stanley Cup Final in a row. And in a time of plateauing when… when it’s so tough and the rules are against you because the league wants parity. And I like that in the league . And that’s what makes it harder. And look at this team, what they’ve been through and the fights that have taken place. And we’re all in this together. Players, coaches, referees, everyone.”
Game 5 is Friday night in Denver. Teams with a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven hold an all-time series record of 298-31 (.906), including a 2-1 (.667) clip in 2022 and a 35 -1 (.972 ) scores in the Stanley Cup Final.