For three games, Nazem Kadri has had to sit on the sidelines while his broken thumb continued to heal.
In Game 4 of the Stanley Cup, he was released into the action and the Colorado Avalanche forward showed why his value to the team cannot be underestimated by scoring the crucial fifth goal in overtime to secure a 3-2 win for his team.
The victory puts the Avalanche on the hill, needing just one more victory in the final three games of the series to clinch what would be a third Stanley Cup success, having previously won the trophy in both 1996 and 2001.
And with Friday’s game back in Colorado, PointsBet Sportsbook has the Avalanche as the -1250 favourites to clinch the series, with the Lightning now the +750 underdogs.
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Cooper Shellshocked That Winning Goal Stood
However, many Tampa Bay Lightning fans and coach Jon Cooper felt that the goal should
not have stood, due to the Avalanche having too many men on the ice when Kadri slotted the puck into the net.
A clearly emotional cooper took just one question following the game and gave a somewhat emotional, if nonsensical answer at first, before making it clear what had upset him.
“This one is going to sting much more than others, just because it was taking on… it was potentially… I don’t know,” said Cooper in response to the question, finding it hard to find an answer.
“It’s hard for me. It’s going to be hard for me to speak. I’m going to have to speak. I’ll speak with you tomorrow,” he said as he struggled for words, before pointedly adding.
“You’re going to see what I mean when you see the winning goal. And my heart breaks for the players. Because we probably should still be playing.”
Ergo, the Avalanche goal should not have stood, with replays after the game from a variety of different camera angles suggesting that the Avalanche had six skaters on the ice when Kadri shot past Vasilevski to claim the win.
MacKinnon Retired Or Active?
From the replays after the game, the issue centered on whether Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon was considered to be close enough to the bench for him to be viewed by officials as a ‘retired player” at the point his team-mate came onto the ice and joined the action.
NHL rules say that skaters have to be within five feet of the bench and out of the play before a change is made.
It is this rule which Cooper alleges that the Avalanche broke last night, but the coach received little support for his stance from the NHL Hockey Operations.
In moving to clarify the issue after controversy raged after the game, the NHL Hockey Operations issued a statement:
“A too many men on the ice penalty is a judgment call that can be made by any of the four on-ice officials.”
“Following the game, Hockey Operations met with the four officials as is their normal protocol. In discussing the winning goal, each of the four officials advised that they did not see a too many men on the ice situation on the play.”
The problem for Tampa was that once the goal is awarded, the too many men on the ice rule cannot be enforced following a review, so the goal had to stand anyway once given.
However, it should also be noted that just because the officials did not see the infraction, that does not mean it did not happen, as the camera replays tended to show.
NHL Gaffe Fuels Anger
The furore grew even more contentious after the game with the NHL handed out a scoresheet that listed six skaters as being on the ice for the Avalanche for the game winning goal, only to edit the scoresheet a short time later to the legal five men on the ice.
The Lightning now face an incredibly difficult task to win the three remaining games, two of which take place in Colorado, if they are to land their third Stanley Cup in succession.
In fact, in 329 NHL games in a best of seven series where one team has trailed 3-1, just 31 teams have gone on to win the series by claiming all three.
In Stanley Cup Finals, when a team has trailed 3-1 in the series, they have won the trophy just once.
The odds are sharply against the Lightning on Friday and for the rest of the series, but will what happened in Game 4 fire them up for an unlikely victory in the series?
Check out the action on Friday night to find out.