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“My Heart Breaks for the Players” – Jon Cooper’s Bolts Fall Behind 3-1

Photo by Len Redkoles

“My Heart Breaks for the Players” – Jon Cooper’s Bolts Fall Behind 3-1

Wednesday evening’s Game 4 Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning will be remembered for two things:

  • The entirety of Amalie Arena losing sight of the puck as Nazem Kadri scored the overtime winner
  • Jon Cooper crying in his post-game press conference on what he considered to be a blown call.

Yeah, it was a really weird finish to the game.

Colorado reclaimed its two-game lead over Tampa with the 3-2 overtime victory on Wednesday, finishing off a late-game comeback with an overtime winner off the stick of the injured Nazem Kadri.

It was a storybook ending for Avalanche fans, and the stuff that nightmares are made of for those following the Bolts.

The game featured five different goal scorers, with Tampa Bay taking a very early lead. Anthony Cirelli scored just 36 seconds in, which proved to be the only goal of the opening frame. Nathan MacKinnon finally got his first of the series in the second period, before Victor Hedman responded to restore Tampa’s one-goal lead at the midway mark.

The Bolts held on to their second lead of the game until the third period, when veteran Andrew Cogliano was the last man to touch the puck before beat Andrei Vasilevskiy less than three minutes into the third. And then with eight minutes left in overtime, Kadri scored the winner on a strong drive to the net off a breakout play from Darcy Kuemper and Mikko Rantanen.

“I knew I had gotten a pretty good shot off and it might have had a chance,” Kadri said immediately after overtime. “I actually thought it was in originally, but then Vasilevskiy kind fooled me there and I thought it maybe [was] pinned between his arm. … It was certainly a few seconds of confusion there, and then I saw everybody bull rush the ice and that’s when I knew it was confirmed.”

The goal, however, appeared to have been scored while Colorado had an extra body on the ice. And that, was what Jon Cooper was so frustrated with in his short post-game availability.

Cooper answered one question and then walked out, promising to speak more on Thursday.

“You know, 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,” Cooper said post-game. “And they fought their way to a third Stanley Cup Final in a row. And in a cap era when … 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. And 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 going to be hard for me to speak. I’m going to have to speak. I’ll speak with you tomorrow. 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.”

Kadri, who was returning after missing four games after undergoing hand surgery, did not see it that way at all.

“The puck hit the back of the net. End of story,” Kadri said matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure why Jon Cooper would say that.”

NHL Hockey Operations issued the following statement after the game concluded:

“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.”

Now trailing three-games-to-one in the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Having won the last two championships with little to no competition in the final series, having their collective backs against the wall may or may not help the team looking to win its third-straight Cup.

The series shifts back to Colorado, where the Stanley Cup will be on hand in what could be the series-clinching game for the Avalanche. Tampa Bay will look to bring themselves once again to within one game of the Avs with a victory at Ball Arena. Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM central time on Friday.


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