Poor officiating will be the most memorable storyline from this evening’s game as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 Saturday night. Multiple missed calls (most of them of the tripping variety) and a goaltender interference penalty continue to make this writer (and many in the hockey community) completely unsure what goaltender interference actually is.
The first 10 minutes of the opening period showcased how deadly Winnipeg can be when all of their horses are running. Winnipeg opened the scoring early as Mikhail Sergachev tried to clear the puck up the right side boards. His clearing attempt was stopped by Brandon Tanev who fed a pass towards Adam Lowry. Tampa Bay’s defense was caught puck watching as Andrew Copp sank behind the coverage where he received a pass from Lowry. Copp took one stride towards the net and fired one past Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Jets a 1-0 lead just 1:23 into the .period
Tampa Bay didn’t register a shot on goal for the first seven minutes of the game. However, after they managed a few shifts in Winnipeg’s zone they started to get some momentum going in their favor. From the midway point of the period on the Lightning dominated the Jets. Unfortunately, no goals were scored during this dominance, but it did provide Tampa Bay with two power-plays to work with. The first power-play didn’t provide any real pressure, but the second power-play opportunity did.
With one second to go on the man advantage, Yanni Gourde tapped a pass in to tie the game with a little over a minute left in the first period. Gourde’s goal was the product of Tyler Johnson keeping the play alive at the left wing circle before he found Brayden Point with a cross-zone pass. Point took one stride forward before feeding a perfect pass through a Jets defender to an open Gourde for an easy tip-in.
Gourde’s goal was the culmination of several minutes of sustained pressure (even before the power-play) by Tampa Bay and forcing Winnipeg’s defense to move out of position.
The second period displayed a much slower pace by both teams as they combined for 14 shots (6 for Winnipeg, 8 for Tampa Bay). Neither team could sustain a lot of pressure while most of the period was fought in the neutral zone (followed by numerous dump-ins). Tampa Bay thought they had scored shortly after their third (largely ineffective) power-play ended.
Cedric Paquette thought he scored off a rebound, but upon a challenge by Winnipeg, the goal was overturned. I will discuss this later in the recap (don’t worry, I’ll rip into the refs). Needless to say, the call didn’t make sense and the NHL needs to address this goaltender interference call. It’s becoming comical.
Luckily, the wunderkind Russian defenseman, Mikhail Sergachev, broke the time at 16:39 with a great individual play. Tyler Johnson fed a pass along the left wing boards to Sergachev who then fended off Nikolai Ehlers with one arm before spinning around and whipping a wrister that Hellebuyck never saw. My tweet should explain everything you need to know.
Mikhail Sergachev is an absolute monster— Matthew Esteves (@mattesteves89) December 10, 2017
Unfortunately, the lead would only last a little over a minute as Kyle Connor tipped a Josh Morrissey point shot that squeaked past Vasilevskiy. The Jets didn’t have a lot of pressure during the second period, but this goal was one of the few times they managed to outmuscle Tampa Bay in their zone. The ending of the second period was lackluster as both teams didn’t produce much after Connor’s goal.
Entering the third, momentum and pace felt even between Winnipeg and Tampa Bay. Both teams had their moments of pressuring the other and dictating play. However, it was Winnipeg who drew first blood for the Jets.
Nikolai Ehlers—who was posterized by Sergachev earlier—decided to do some posterizing himself. Ehlers received a pass from Jacob Trouba in the neutral zone and he sped down the left wing like a bullet train. He only slightly slowed to position his stick to rip a wrist shot through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole to give Winnipeg a 3-2 lead 7:02 into the third frame.
Not to be outdone, however, was Nikita Kucherov (who is going to get PAIDDDDDDDD when his next contract is due). 1:49 after Ehlers gave Winnipeg the lead Kucherov scored from the point to give Tampa Bay some life. There isn’t much to describe this goal other than: “Dotchin passes to Kucherov, Kucherov stick handles around a Jets defender, Kucherov shoots, Kucherov scores.” It’s as simple as that. Kucherov stick handles, Kucherov scores. He’s a simple man.
Tampa Bay and Winnipeg traded chances throughout the rest of the period, but aside from a few scary moments both Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy closed the door for the remainder of the period.
As usual, you’ll get the emotions folks.
- Oh no, Schiefele has a partial breakaway!
- Oh, thank god Hedman stopped him.
- KUCHEROV IS OPEN!
- He passes it to Hedman and KUCHEROV ALMOST SINKS THE ONE TIMER!
- Next faceoff, not much going on.
- Wait, is that Point streaking down the right wing towards the center of the ice?
- POINT YOU BETTER DEKE AROUND AND PUT THAT PUCK IN THE NET YOU BEAUTIFUL BOY!
- POINT SCORES OFF THE BACKHAND!
Some might say Tampa Bay played poorly against Winnipeg, but I’d argue that this was two good hockey teams playing a hard game that neither one wanted to become a track meet. Both Tampa and Winnipeg forced nearly every zone entry towards the outside and made life hell for anyone entering the slot.
This game sure wasn’t pretty, but you can’t always win pretty. You have to win the slugfest games and this game mirrored it a bit. Vasilevskiy made some timely saves and the offense came in clutch when it was needed. Now, the Lightning needs to reset and prepare for a road trip that—if they’re not careful—could be more challenging than they expect.
Refusing to Cave
Tampa Bay trailed, then led, then trailed again in this game. That kind of roller coaster can mess with a team’s emotions and, in turn, their mentality. Tampa Bay never stopped playing their game throughout the evening. They continued to attack Winnipeg and tried to force the Jets defense to move and make poor decisions. It didn’t always work, and there were quite a few turnovers that Jon Cooper would probably like to see less of, but the Lightning never quit in this game.
That was an attribute this team was lacking last season when things became difficult and one that hasn’t been needed often this season. However, with a team as talented as the Jets pushing back as hard as Tampa was it was good to see the Lightning revive that trait tonight.
Ok, I’m not going to talk about the multiple missed calls. I’m going to focus solely on the goaltender interference and why I have no ******* clue what this rule even means anymore.
Ruled no goal after review pic.twitter.com/3OcinhUarq— Jeremy Houghtaling (@JGHoughtaling) December 10, 2017
Alright, in fairness, Kunitz DOES make contact with Hellebuyck’s right skate at the start of the play (which did not hinder his ability to make the save). Hellebuyck moves forward to lean on Kunitz so he can try and look around him. Ben Chiarot then cross-checks (why was there no call on this as well?) Kunitz. Kunitz obviously falls forward. Since Hellebuyck is leaning on Kunitz—and he is not immune to the laws of physics and gravity—that means Hellebuyck also loses his balance and falls. Hellebuyck then collides with his own defenseman. The shot doesn’t even make it on goal as Dustin Byfuglien stops the shot with his skate. The puck bounces towards Paquette and Paquette buries the rebound.
How is any of this interference on Kunitz? The initial contact did nothing to disrupt Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck leans into Kunitz and then when Kunitz is leveled out of the play he falls. How is that Tampa Bay’s fault?
This whole goaltender interference issue is becoming as comical as the NFL’s catch rule. What the hell is it? Because I have no ******* clue what it is and I’m fed up with trying to figure out what these referees are going to call. It’s like we’re flipping a coin and going with whatever it lands on and calling it good.
This needs to be addressed. It’s ridiculous.
We are spoiled here in Tampa Bay. A fast, young team that scores as well (if not better than) anyone in the league. So, when a team like Winnipeg comes to town and brings a heavier style of hockey and forces the Lightning into a slower pace game it can be a little aggravating to fans.
I understand how teams play differently and appreciate the differences. Doesn’t mean I completely like it when Tampa has to alter their game a little, haha. I prefer the faster pace compared to what we saw tonight, but I was just as engaged since both teams were giving it their all and not allowing the other to abuse the center of the ice.
There will be plenty more games like this as the season progresses and you can bet the playoffs are going to be rife with games that flow like this evening’s game.