Lightning’s Cooper doesn’t let refs off the hook, but wants to focus on Game 5

Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh speaks about the overtime goal by Nazem Kadri in Game 4, says he wasn't aware of too many men on ice at the moment.

One day after the Colorado Avalanche‘s controversial overtime goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper maintained the referees missed a too-many-men-on-the-ice call — but was shifting his focus to Game 5.

“There’s nothing 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,” Cooper said Thursday.

Video shows that the Avalanche had six players on the ice when Kadri scored the winning goal. Nathan MacKinnon was about to step off the ice as Kadri — who had just jumped over the boards — received a pass, skated in and scored.

However, Rule 74.1 (too many men on the ice) states: “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.” MacKinnon appears to be within that distance by the time Kadri receives the puck.

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“The reason there’s a rule is if you gain a significant advantage — that’s probably what happened there,” Cooper said. “That happens all the time on line changes, it’s an inexact science. The purpose of the rule is not to gain an advantage. It’s too bad.”

Following the Game 4 loss on Wednesday, Cooper cut his post-game press conference short after speaking about the game-winner.

“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. … But this one is going to sting much more than others,” an emotional Cooper had said.

“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.”

Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde was more direct in his criticism of the winner.

“They were able to get an interesting change for the game-winning goal, and that was the difference,” Lalonde had told Dave Randorf on-air post-game. “It’s going to get ugly. We’re probably talking about a 50-feet change. Obviously, Kadri changed for MacKinnon. It’s a pretty bad look. Unfortunately, we’re on the bad end of it.”

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With the Lightning shifting focus to Game 5, defenceman Ryan McDonagh chalked up the overtime controversy to a tough call, on a situation that comes up often.

“I think it probably happens more times than we think,” he said Thursday. “Obviously it’s heightened there with the result and the outcome. As players, we’re looking for every inch to gain an advantage and try to jump on the play when you know the change is coming. It’s impossible to say what’s the right decision there. It’s so fast.

“It probably happens a million more times a game than we think.”

The Avalanche lead the series 3-1.

Watch Game 5 on Friday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet.

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