Lightning’s Game 4 Loss the Result of More Than a Blown Call

The Tampa Bay Lightning suffered an extremely difficult 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday for a few reasons. In falling behind 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, it appears that Nazem Kadri’s game-winner should not have been allowed because the Avalanche had too many men on the ice. Yet, it was not the only issue that led to the Lightning’s loss.

Too Many Men on the Ice?

Many of us got our first clue that there was some kind of issue with the goal during Jon Cooper’s mysterious post-game interview. Much of the post-game focused on what happened to Kadri’s shot, which got stuck in the top of the net as it went passed Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was in his interview that Cooper brought up the fact that he felt the Avalanche should have been called for too many men.

The NHL did respond to the question by issuing this 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. This call is not subject to video review either by Hockey Ops or the on-ice officials.”

The fact that they did not see it does not mean it did not happen. TSN’s Darren Dreger argued, “It definitely fits the category of a pretty severe miss,” and explained why the penalty should have been called.

Assuming it was a blown call, this is a tough blow for the Lightning, who are facing a do-or-die situation heading back to Colorado for Game 5. However, if the call had been made, there’s no guarantee the Lightning would have won, especially since the Avalanche were swarming in their attack and controlled the tempo throughout overtime. The Avalanche looked fresh and fast, while the Lightning struggled to keep up. Even though it seemed inevitable that the Avalanche would score, the Lightning had other issues in Game 4 that were just as significant in their defeat.

Lightning’s Poor Special Teams Play

When the Lightning look back on this Stanley Cup Final, they’ll see that one of their biggest issues was the lack of production from their special teams. While they have been playing staunch defense at 5v5, they have given up six power-play goals and one shorthanded goal. Their penalty killers have been unable to keep up with the swift Avalanche, and when they do, they can’t clear the puck out of their zone consistently.

Tampa Bay’s power play, which has been one of their strengths in the playoffs, has only netted one power-play goal in 14 chances. In Game 4, they were unable to score on their two power-play chances while allowing the Avalanche to tally one of their own. This issue has not been lost on Victor Hedman, who said, “They scored a bunch of power-play goals. We want to keep it 5-on-5 — that’s where we’re our best. Our power play is struggling, not scoring goals, but I feel we’re creating momentum.”

Tampa Bay Lightning Victor Hedman
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jason Behnken)

For most of the series, the Avalanche have overwhelmed the Lightning in their matchups. They have also out-hustled and outworked them, especially on special teams. What once was a team strength has now become one of their greatest weaknesses.

Injuries Starting to Pile Up for the Lightning

Erik Cernak blocked a Nathan MacKinnon shot just below his left pant leg, an area that usually does not have much padding, at 5:14 into the second period. Cernak could not put any weight on his left foot as he was helped down the tunnel by a trainer. He returned to the bench at the start of the third period and tried to test out his leg, but clearly wasn’t 100% and did not play for the rest of the game, leaving the team with just five defensemen. His status is in doubt for Game 5 on Saturday.

Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning
Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Anthony Cirelli left the ice in the second period clutching his arm. It seemed his bicep may have been cut by Alex Killorn’s skate. He did return in the third period but did not attempt any faceoffs after the injury, leaving that task to Brandon Hagel. The team was also without Brayden Point, who missed his second straight game after attempting to play in the first two games of the series. He sustained a lower-body injury during Game 7 of the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Related: Lightning’s Hate to Lose Mentality Will Be Tested in the Stanley Cup Final

While it may be difficult to see such a critical game end in this fashion, it does not tell the whole story of why the Lightning are on the brink of elimination. If their tremendous Stanley Cup streak ends, it will be more than just one mistake by the officials that doomed Tampa Bay in Game 4 and the series.

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