The Colorado Avalanche threw everything they had at Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in overtime of Game 4… including an extra skater.
Colorado’s Nazem Kadri jumped on the ice, battled to the slot, and beat Vasilevskiy to give the Avalanche a 3-2 win and a 3-1 series lead.
He was the guy off the bench. The guy who crushed the Lightning’s hopes of knotting the series at 2-2.
“My heart breaks for the players, because we should still be playing,” said Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper. “You’re going to see what I mean when you see the winning goal.”
Kadri was also the guy who came on too soon.
The Colorado Avalanche had too many men on the ice. Six skaters were out there as the Avs entered the attacking zone. The Lightning also appeared to have seven skaters on the ice at one point during the same sequence, as both teams made sloppy changes in the extra session. The difference, though, is that the Avalanche scored moments later.
Tampa was not able to challenge the play. A Coach’s Challenge can only be issued for goaltender interference, offside, or a missed stoppage in the offensive zone — none of which occurred on this play. Missed penalties or possible stoppages in the neutral zone would not apply. In any case, the bench feedback is rendered moot in this situation. In the final minute of regulation or at any point in overtime, plays eligible for a Coach’s Challenge are automatically reviewed by the league. There was nothing afoul here, at least in terms of what’s eligible for a second look.
The NHL reviews all goals to ensure they were scored legally – that is, not by a high stick, not kicked or batted in, or a handful of other scenarios. They don’t – and can’t – review for missed calls.
Replays showed six skaters on the ice for the Avalanche, along with seven for the Lightning. No whistle was blown. Either the officials outright missed it, or they granted some additional leeway to the changing players. We’re going with the latter.
NHL Hockey Operations released a statement on the play:
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 in 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.
So, what exactly is a too-many-men situation?
Dig into the relevant portions of Rule 74: Too Many Men On The Ice:
Players may be changed at any time during the play from the players’ bench provided that the player or players leaving the ice shall be within five feet (5′) of his players’ bench and out of the play before the change is made. At the discretion of the on-ice officials, should a substituting player come onto the ice before his teammate is within the five foot (5’) limit of the players’ bench (and therefore clearly causing his team to have too many players on the ice), then a bench minor penalty may be assessed.
When a player is retiring from the ice surface and is within the five foot (5’) limit of his players’ bench, and his substitute is on the ice, then the retiring player shall be considered off the ice for the purpose of Rule 70 – Leaving Bench.
If in the course of making a substitution, either the player entering the game or the player retiring plays the puck or who checks or makes any physical contact with an opposing player while both players involved in the substitution are on the ice, then the infraction of “too many men on the ice” will be called.
As Nathan MacKinnon went off, Nazem Kadri jumped on – though a bit early. MacKinnon looked to be beyond the five-foot mark. He was still on the ice when Kadri crossed the blueline at center. With his back to the action, though, MacKinnon was clearly out of the play. Defenseman Bowen Byram was still on the ice as well, way back in the defensive end. Did they forget about Byram? Did they extend the distance limit? Was MacKinnon just brutally slow in getting off the ice? Did the officials think Nichuskin was going off when he headed toward the bench? Most importantly, did it impact the play?
From Kadri’s standpoint, did he jump when Nichuskin circled back, thinking he was next man up? Nichuskin glided toward the bench but stayed out, with MacKinnon ultimately coming off the ice moments later.
Here’s the video from @SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/rqwMmIJcZD
— Ben Ross (@BenRossTweets) June 23, 2022
The view from the bench shows Nichuskin’s approach… and MacKinnon’s eventual return, well after Kadri has flown the coop.
This is the most damming footage I’ve seen yet.
As Nazem Kadri (the winning goal scorer) gets on the ice it takes MacKinnon over 5 seconds to get back to the bench and he’s clearly much further than 5 feet away. pic.twitter.com/9ede4C6ZCU
— Kailey Mizelle (@KaileyMizelle) June 23, 2022
MacKinnon was out of the play at the time the goal was scored. He wasn’t, though, within five feet of the bench when Kadri took the ice. He was still on the ice even when the goal was scored. He was out of the play, though. He was a non-factor. He didn’t play the puck or make contact with opposing players.
Kadri, though? Kadri absolutely did.
Cooper spoke, measuring his words carefully, after the heartbreaking loss.
“I love this league. It’s the greatest league in the world. The people that run it are amazing. Everything about it. It’s like a dream come true for me, especially being a Canadian kid growing up and everything that’s gone on.”“I’ve been part of some heartbreaking losses and defeats to the teams that took us out and been with a group that just fights, fights and fights, and they fought their way to a third Stanley Cup Final in a row,” Cooper said after the game. “In a cap era when it’s so damn hard and the rules are put against you because the league wants parity. And I love that about the league. And that’s what makes it tougher.”“Just watch this team, what they’ve gone through and the battling that’s gone on. And we’re all in this together. Players, coaches, refs, everybody. But this one is going to sting much more than others, just because it was taking on … it was potentially … I don’t know … It’s hard for me.”
It’s a tough call to miss. It’s also arguably not the only one in the game. A handful of infractions could have resulted in penalties in that hard-fought third period. Plays that might have been a penalty earlier in the game. Plays that certainly would have earned a call earlier in the playoffs. Plays far more egregious than this.
With only four penalties in the game – none in the third period or overtime – it may have been balanced. Jon Cooper, though, might not feel it was fair. Especially when it comes to one missed call in particular.
This is not the first time the Tampa Bay Lightning have seen a critical playoff goal scored with extra skaters on the ice. Last time, though, they were on the winning side. In the 2021 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Islanders, the Bolts scored the go-ahead goal with seven skaters on the ice.
Referees for the game were Wes McCauley (#4) and Kelly Sutherland (#11). Linesmen were Steve Barton (#59) and Kiel Murchison (#79). Ref Chris Rooney (#5) and linesman Jonny Murray (#95) were on standby.
Looking for more discussion? Here’s Steve Dangle’s breakdown: