Lightning head coach Jon Cooper questions if Avalanche’s game-winning goal should have counted

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It is now dire straits for the Tampa Bay Lightning and their pursuit of a Stanley Cup three-peat. After Nazem Kadri’s game-winning goal in Game 4 improved the Colorado Avalanche to 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa Bay is now potentially a game away from having to give the Cup away.

And they also have to contend with the question of whether or not they got a raw deal.

In a brief post-game press conference following his team’s Game 4 loss, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper openly questioned the legality of Kadri’s game-winning goal. Tampa Bay’s alleged point of contention was that they believed Colorado had six skaters on the ice before Kadri scored.

“It’s going to be hard for me to speak. I’m going to have to speak. I’ll speak with you tomorrow,” Cooper said after the game, according to a report by Greg Wyshynski of ESPN. “You’re going to see what I mean when you see the winning goal. And my heart breaks for the players. Because we probably still should be playing.”

While video showed that the Avalanche had six skaters on the ice as Kadri collected the pass to set up his game-winning shot, whether a too many men on the ice penalty should’ve been called hinges on whether Nathan MacKinnon was close enough to the bench to be considered a retired player.

Per NHL rules, skaters have to be within five feet of the bench and out of play before a substitution can be made. Also, per NHL rules, too many men on the ice infractions are not reviewable even when a goal is scored. NHL Hockey Operations addressed the issue in a statement following the game.

“A too many men on the ice penalty is a judgment call that can be made by any of the four on-ice officials,” read the league’s statement. “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.”

Matters were complicated when the NHL’s post-game scoresheet listed six players for the Avalanche when Kadri’s game-winner was scored. The scoresheet was later edited to a list of just five skaters, as the league believed defenseman Erik Johnson ended up listed in error after players jumped off the bench in celebration of Kadri’s goal.