Sports

Lightning’s Cooper has no choice but to change tune on missed call

DENVER — Jon Cooper smartly stepped off his grandstand Thursday.

Not only had the emotions of a difficult blown-lead overtime loss cooled, but the former lawyer is savvy enough to know there is no use belabouring “an unfortunate non-call,” as he put it, ahead of his team’s most important game of the season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning coach’s cliff-hanger postgame presser had served its purpose.

He vented without explicitly ripping the referees or the league that governs them. He sucked some attention away from a pretty darn poetic Nazem Kadri playoff moment. And he got reporters and analysts calling sources, rewinding multiple angles and squinting at freeze frames instead of breaking down what was a dominant fourth period by the better side in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

Did game-winning goal-scorer Kadri jump the gun and hop on the ice well before his man, Nathan MacKinnon, got within the requisite five feet? Yup.

Did the four on-ice officials either miss it or let it slide, like so many infractions in that same game? Yup.

Does Cooper — whose club is getting crushed on special teams — truly want the rulebook called to the letter every night? Hmmm…

Do fans want video reviews for line changes and icings and, heck, why not proper face-off etiquette while we’re at it? A zillion times no.

“The reason there’s a rule is if you gain a significant advantage, and that’s probably what happened there. But that happens, like, all the time in line changes. It’s an inexact science. But the purpose of the rule is not to gain an advantage. So, it’s too bad,” Cooper told reporters at the Tampa airport, before flying west.

Neither Cooper, the home fans, nor the two networks broadcasting the game caught the oversight in real time.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has no time for these reindeer games.

Hockey, Bednar reminds, is a fluid game of good and bad bounces, best played at rhythm.

No one seriously wants to Pandora’s box the line change. Not even Cooper.

“Tampa’s got two guys jumping on with their D coming off the ice from a zone away. I count 7-6 at one point. So, that is what it is. That’s the way the game is played. I don’t see it as a break or a non-break. I actually see it as nothing,” Bednar said.

“I thought they called it fine. I’m sure each coach can go through it and say, ‘That’s a penalty, that’s a penalty.’ But that’s the way it goes. They’re letting us play. OC [Logan O’Connor] breaks in all alone on [Victor] Hedman in overtime and he gets a stick in his hands.

“It is what it is, man. You’ve got to fight through it. It’s playoff hockey. Stanley Cup Finals. You’re expected as players to fight through a certain amount of stuff, because it’s the most competitive time of the year. The refs aren’t going to call the ticky-tack stuff that puts teams down and gives the other team an advantage. They’re going to let the players settle the game. That’s the way it should be.”

Tampa’s players aren’t making excuses either. What’s the point?

“It probably happens more times than we think,” said Ryan McDonagh, who’s appeared in more playoff games than any active NHLer. “Obviously, it’s heightened there with the result and the outcome.

“And you ask players, we’re looking for every inch to get an advantage and try and jump in the play when you know your change is coming. It’s impossible to say what’s the right decision there. It’s so fast.”

So fast, it wasn’t until after the coach stepped off the ice that he was shown the length of Kadri’s false start on video and got heated.

“I apologize for last night because that’s what you get when you have to speak to the media right away,” Cooper said.

“What’s great about today is that it’s not yesterday. And now I got some excitement for Game 5, and that’s where my mind’s turning, on how to win that. Not [anything] we can do to turn back. They missed it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s water under the bridge now. Let’s go get ready. It should be a hell of a Game 5.”

Indeed, it will be. Provided an injured-ravaged Tampa squad can execute its identity the way it did in Game 3 and the first half of Game 4.

“Did they get the best of us in overtime? There’s no question they did. But this is a game of breaks, and oftentimes you make them and sometimes you get them. And Colorado’s up 3-1 in this series because they’ve made a lot of breaks,” Cooper conceded.

“Listen, this is the king of getting them. Like, I’ve gotten them on teams I’ve had when we’ve won or had leads in games or won championships — you get those. But what comes around goes around. Eventually we’ll make ours, and we’ll get ours and stuff like that. But it’s just the way the game is, and you can’t pout about it.”

Not anymore.

Stamkos tries reversing the pressure

Steven Stamkos is a clever man.

Even though all the pressure is on the Lightning — suddenly facing three (if they’re lucky) consecutive must-win games, two in the toughest of road barns — the captain tried to shift some of that uneasy expectation onto the Avalanche.

“We know what it feels like to be in their shoes, to have a chance to win at home. Not an easy thing to do. Pretty nerve-wracking day,” Stamkos said.

“For us, we go in, our backs against the wall, we’ve done it more in these playoffs, and we’ll have to do it again. We can’t sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. It’s a hard-fought game. Guys are sacrificing a lot right now in terms of their bodies. It stings right now, but we got to go there and win a hockey game and bring it back [to Tampa].”

One-Timers: Cooper had no updates on the health of defenseman Erik Cernak, who did not finish Game 4; Anthony Cirelli, who left the game with an injury but did return; or Brayden Point (day-to-day with a lower-body injury)…. Tell us how you really feel, Pat Maroon: “We have to go win a f—— game right now. Sorry about my French.”… Tampa’s power-play, so dangerous in its Cup runs, has literally been a non-factor through four games. At 5-on-4, the Lightning scored one goal and allowed one goal. “I thought we had some decent looks,” Stamkos said. “Just not really in the rhythm right now, so we’ll have to make some adjustments.”

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