Somebody should check on the condition of Jon Cooper’s tongue because he was biting it pretty hard following his team’s 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers.
Suffice it to say, the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach wasn’t chuffed with the officiating Saturday afternoon and he had some choice words post-game, while trying mightily to avoid saying something that would result in a fine.
“The hockey game ended halfway through the second,” Cooper told reporters at Amalie Arena. “It turned into something much different.”
There were four penalties called (two minors for each team) in the game prior to Alex Killorn making it 5-1 at the 7:15 mark of the second frame. After that the game got chippie and there were an additional 16 penalties plus five misconducts called before the final horn.
“We had to weather our emotions there’s no doubt,” Cooper said. “You know, when our players are being told, ‘Don’t do anything stupid, we’re gonna get you,’ so we don’t do anything stupid and the other team’s getting rewarded for it? I just don’t get it. It’s really frustrating.”
The Lightning were assessed 11 minor penalties in the game, including four in the final 6:19 of the second period – the last of which was a terrible goaltender interference call on Nikita Kucherov
“People are coming to watch a really intense, good hockey game and liberties are being taken,” Cooper added. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re not angels out there. I’m not sitting here saying that. Far from it. But when there’s a standard set and we’re being told how things are going to be called and when it doesn’t get done there’s just confusion.
“I’ll give our guys a ton of credit for sticking with it and battling through whether it was the embellishment or the non-call after non-call after non-call.”
Kucherov’s status Tampa’s top concern
Kucherov was named first star of the game despite not playing the final nine minutes of the third period. The Russian, who missed the entire regular season after undergoing off-season hip surgery, had had a four-point outing but went down in a heap of pain after taking a slash on the left knee from Panthers forward Anthony Duclair.
Mikhail Sergachev was also hurt on a third-period hit from Patric Hornqvist.
Cooper had no update on either player after the game and quickly moved on from any questions relating to the specific plays that resulted in his players going down.
Losing either player would be a blow to the defending Stanley Cup champions, but in particular the element Kucherov brings to Tampa’s offence cannot be replaced.
The 2019 Hart Trophy winner and leading scorer from last year’s playoffs already has three goals and six assists in four post-season games this month as the Lightning look to close out the series Monday when the teams head back south to Sunrise, Fla., for Game 5.
Before limping down the tunnel Kucherov joined an exclusive club with his three-assist game, becoming just the 11th player in NHL history to record six or more playoff games with three assists or more.
Trotz made right call going back to Sorokin
Barry Trotz made the decision to go back to the rookie netminder for a pivotal Game 4 and Sorokin was dialled in, stopping 29 of 30 shots faced. The lone goal allowed was a late, shorthanded goal that made no difference to the outcome.
Sorokin, who said he was excited to play in front of a boisterous crowd like the one Saturday, is just the second rookie goalie in Islanders franchise history to win multiple games during a Stanley Cup Playoffs run joining Glenn Resch who did it in 1975.
“It was a shame that we gave up a goal there at the end, but I thought he looked solid,” Trotz told reporters at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “I thought the team played the right way and we were able to get a victory."
It would be a surprise if the Isles didn’t go with Sorokin again in Game 5.
Early coach’s challenge, breakaways the difference for Vegas
Nicolas Roy put the Vegas Golden Knights up 1-0 midway through the first period, yet mere seconds later, Joel Eriksson Ek and the Minnesota Wild answered and the home team had the momentum. Unfortunately for the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center, it didn’t last.
Marc-Andre Fleury was bumped in his crease and Peter DeBoer challenged for goalie interference.
Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh thought it was the right call to overturn the goal.
Vegas took back the momentum after the successful challenge and winning a battle of the breakaways in the second period ended up being the difference in the game.
Alex Tuch put Vegas up 2-0 when he beat Cam Talbot in alone for his third of the series against his former team. Less than five minutes later, Mark Stone extended the lead with an unassisted short-handed breakaway goal.
Fleury then stopped Eriksson Ek on a breakaway during that same Wild power play. It was perhaps the biggest save of the game for Fleury, who is now tied with Curtis Joseph for third-most playoff shutouts in NHL history. Fleury also became the fifth goalie in NHL history to play in at least 150 post-season games.