TAMPA – So this is how it ends? With a frame-by-frame decomposition of the fatal goal, as if Abraham Zapruder was filming from the grassy mound?
After all the good times, all the memories, all the glory, are we supposed to raise our voices in collective anger? Is it possible that the Lightning was ultimately killed by a conspiracy of silence?
Let’s hope not.
Hopefully the ever-vague grievances coach Jon Cooper alluded to in his brief post-game press conference on Wednesday night were just the frustrations of a man whose team may have finally exhausted his endless supply of tomorrows.
Tampa Bay lost 3-2 in overtime to Colorado in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, leaving the Lightning just one loss shy of the end of their reign at the top of the NHL.
It’s the title. This is the news. It is reality.
But the next few days could be filled with screenshots, slow-motion videos and maniacal complaints that the Lightning were robbed of a triple-round chance because umpires didn’t blow their whistle when the Avalanche had too much. of players on the ice in the final moments.
“You know, I’ve been part of heartbreaking losses and defeats,” Cooper said. “I’ve been with a group that fights, fights and fights. And they fought their way to a third straight Stanley Cup Final. And in a time when it’s so hard and the rules are against you because the league wants parity.
“And I like that about the league. And that’s what makes it more difficult…but this one is going to sting a lot more than the others…just because it was taking…it was potentially…I don’t I don’t know… It’s hard for me It’s going to be difficult for me to talk I’ll talk to you (Thursday) 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.
So is this really what happened?
Yes? Most likely? Maybe?
At least one version of the video appears to show Nazem Kadri jumping onto the ice several seconds before Nathan MacKinnon hit the bench. Just as MacKinnon comes off the ice, the Colorado players begin to celebrate when Kadri scores the game-winning goal.
Even more damning was the official box score handed out by league employees in the moments leading up to Cooper’s press conference. Each goal includes a list of players on the ice at the time it was scored.
On Kadri’s goal, there are seven players signed up for the Avalanche. Obviously, that’s one more than allowed. The league then removed Erik Johnson’s number from the on-ice player list in its online score and announced in the media work room that Johnson was not on the ice.
Frankly, it was a weak response from the NHL.
Between the confusion of the initial box score, the apparent video evidence and the whiff of an accusation by Cooper, the NHL should have settled the controversy quickly.
Instead, it was after 1 a.m. that the league finally released a statement that none of the on-ice officials saw too many men on the ice and the game is not subject to a video review.
But the statement essentially leaves everyone in suspense. Referees didn’t see too many men on the ice, but the league never says if the initial call was correct.
And so the Avs have a cloud over their win, the Lightning have bile in their throats and millions of fans are wondering what happened.
And it’s a shame. Because it was a great game and it could have been a wonderful time for two great teams.
And even though the Lightning lost, that night was everything you ever loved about this team. Competence, determination, selflessness and fearlessness.
And if this is to be the end – if this is the last game of the season at the Amalie Arena – it was a fitting farewell, even if the final moments ended in confusion.
If the Lightning are short of a third straight title, it’s not for lack of trying. The owner spent money, the GM made time trades, and the players put their hearts on the ice.
At some point, we may have asked too much of them.
To get this far without Brayden Point, your top scorer in the last two playoffs, is pretty impressive. Nikita Kucherov is also suffering and Nick Paul is not quite well.
And then, as Game 4 progressed, the Lightning lost Erik Cernak. Anthony Cirelli also injured his right arm and, upon his return, he could no longer take a face-off.
“We’re trying hard, we’re giving it our all, it’s certainly not for lack of effort,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “Like I said, it’s a sacrifice at this time of year. Nobody else outside the locker room knows. Sometimes you think you know, but you don’t. It’s difficult at this time of year for both teams.
“You have guys playing through a lot right now. The guys are fighting, and our group is going to fight.
Did the Lightning deserve to lose Game 4? No, but only because they played so bravely.
So were they cheated out of a Game 4 win? No, even though the Avs had too many men on the ice.
This match is being played at breakneck speed and the referees are doing their best to make sure every call is correct. If they missed this one, so be it. There is always tomorrow.
Even if they are starting to run out for Tampa Bay.
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.
Never miss the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida College Sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.