Cooper, Lightning lament 'unfair' overturned goals

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Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was highly critical of two goalie interference calls that went against his team in its Game 5 loss to the Florida Panthers, which eliminated the Lightning from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Monday night.

“This is clearly a turning point in the game. If anyone’s going to talk about this game, they’re going to talk about the goals that were taken away,” Cooper said after the 6-1 loss to Florida, a score inflated by two empty-net goals by the Panthers.

The first goalie interference review was a coach’s challenge initiated by Florida at 13 minutes of the first period. Video review determined that Tampa Bay’s Anthony Duclair impaired Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s ability to play his position in the crease prior to Anthony Cirelli’s goal.

Cooper felt that Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling was holding Duclair on the play.

“You saw our reaction. It’s just one of those … it’s very frustrating,” Duclair said. “I always have a ref screaming in my ear. I thought I was out of the blue paint. When you look at the video, I was clearly out of there. It is what it is, it’s a judgment call.”

The second goalie interference play happened at 17:48 of the second period, as a goal was immediately waved off when the officials said Cirelli made incidental contact with Bobrovsky while battling defenseman Niko Mikkola. Tampa Bay challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“Obviously, it sucks. But it’s our job to go out there and keep battling and trying to get the next one. When you think you have a goal and it goes the other way, you get down a little bit. But it doesn’t matter. You go out there and keep playing,” Cirelli said.

Cooper felt that Bobrovsky embellished on the play.

“I’ll give the goalie credit. He completely quit on the play. Didn’t see it, flailed and maybe there’s incidental contact at most. But now we have to challenge it because they saw the reaction from the goaltender,” Cooper said. “Bob’s doing the right thing. He duped them. So be it. But we have to make that challenge.”

Cooper felt the spirit of the goalie interference rule wasn’t violated by either play.

“In this league, goals are at a premium. All we’ve done is make the rules for more goal scoring. Every year it seems like there’s something that we tweak so there’s more goal scoring. That’s great. But there’s mandates. The words were to pull a goal off the board, it has to be unbelievably egregious. That’s the standard,” he said.

Cooper also felt that both plays were indicative of the officials overprotecting goaltenders during battles in front of the net.

“Are net-front battles not allowed anymore? That’s part of everybody’s game. The boxing out that goes there is like prison rules in the playoffs. But it’s not prison rules for the goalie? We might as well put skirts on them then, if that’s how it’s going to be,” he said. “They have to battle through stuff too. It’s a war down there. I think we’re letting the goalies off the hook. And they have way more pads on than everybody else does.”

Cooper reiterated that he didn’t believe the calls cost the Lightning the series, but that they did change the momentum in the game.

“This is just my opinion, I felt it was a little unfair. In the playoffs, how do you let those slide,” he asked.

The Panthers won the series 4-1 and advanced to face the winner of the Boston Bruins-Toronto Maple Leafs series. The Bruins hold a 3-1 lead in that series, potentially setting up a rematch of last season’s epic first-round upset by Florida in seven games.

For the Lightning, the loss begins a critical offseason for the franchise. That includes the future of 34-year-old star captain Steven Stamkos, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer. He had 40 goals in 79 games this season for Tampa Bay, his 16th with the franchise.

“That never crossed my mind. I’m out there trying to help my team win. Regardless, we’re trying to score. There’s a lot of pride on the line,” said Stamkos, who waited near the tunnel to the dressing room to greet every Lightning player as they left the ice after the game.

Cooper downplayed the fact that Stamkos might have played his last game with the Lightning.

“I don’t know if there will be much conversation. I hope not, anyway. He belongs here. We know it. He knows it,” the coach said. “He and I have grown up together. He’s a heck of a player. He’s in control of his own destiny. I don’t know what’s going to happen. He feels like a Bolt for life, but only he and [GM Julien BriseBois] can answer that one.”

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