TAMPA, Fla. – It was an odd finish to the game and an odd finish to the Lightning’s postgame press conferences. The latter certainly stood out the most.
As for the outcome of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena, there was a delayed reaction to Nazem Kadri’s goal at 12:02 of overtime.
Though Kadri’s shot clearly beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to the far side and under the goalie’s right arm, the puck got caught up in the netting in the back of the goal and did not reappear immediately.
Momentary uncertainty ensued before it was clear to all concerned where the puck went. The Avalanche began celebrating a 3-2 win and a 3-1 series lead.
At his press conference, Lightning coach Jon Cooper took one question and spoke emotionally for a couple of minutes about his love of the game and how his heart breaks for his team because something was amiss with Kadri’s goal.
He did not elaborate and indicated he would have more to say Thursday.
“You’re going to see what I mean when you see the winning goal,” said Cooper. “My heart breaks for the players, because we should still be playing.”
His concern seems to be that Kadri, playing his first game in three weeks following hand surgery, left the bench and joined the play too soon creating a too-many-men situation for Colorado. It is something that is not reviewable.
Indeed, the final score sheet listed seven Avs on the ice. Less than an hour after the game the league announced to those in the media work area that one of the players listed as being on the ice, Erik Johnson, was not. How convenient. How odd.
There is no question about the fact Colorado dominated the overtime. The Avs outshot the Lightning 11-3 while also clanking shots off the post and crossbar. Thanks to Andrei Vasilevskiy, the game lasted as long as it did.
The Lightning also lost the battle of attrition as Erik Cernak’s night was limited to 11 shifts and 7:37 of ice time before he exited with an injury in the second period. That left the Lightning with five defensemen for the duration resulting in Mikhail Sergachev, who was clearly hobbled when he was beaten in his own end by Kadri on the game-winner, playing a team-high 32:50.
The Lightning, who got a goal from Anthony Cirelli 36 seconds into the game and outshot the Avs 17-4 in the opening period, but led only 1-0, now find themselves with no margin for error.
“We know it’s going to be difficult,” said Steven Stamkos. “We know they’re a heck of a team over there, but we’re not going to quit. We’ve gone too far and guys have sacrificed so much to get in this position. So, we’ll regroup and go win a game on the road.”
During this run to three straight Stanley Cup finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning have shown time and again how resilient they are. However, they are now being tested like they have not been since commencing this memorable run in the Toronto playoff bubble of 2020.
The Bolts will look to extend the series by taking Game 5 on Friday night (8:00, ABC) in Denver.