Tampa Bay made a valiant comeback attempt after falling behind 3-0 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, scoring two goals in less than two minutes late in the third period to quiet a boisterous Verizon Center crowd.
In the end though, the Lightning couldn’t overcome Nicklas Backstrom’s first career hat trick and some stellar play from Caps goalie Braden Holtby.
Saturday’s game had a lot to digest. Here’s what we learned from the first game of a five-game road trip.
1. Goaltender interference rule needs to be a reviewable call
Steve Stamkos’ disallowed goal in the first period left many scratching their heads Saturday night.
Whether you think Ryan Callahan interfered with Holtby, allowing Stamkos to score what he thought was his 18th goal of the season or you felt Callahan was pushed into Holtby by trailing defenseman Brooks Orpik, which would have allowed the goal to stand, the fact that the call is not open to video review is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Action on the ice is extremely fast; it’s one of the reasons we love hockey. To rely on the recollection of the referees when the technology exists to review the play by video and get a clearer look just doesn’t seem right.
“I feel like we’re writing the book on (goaltender interference), and I don’t know what the right answer is because it’s just a different explanation every time,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following the game. “It’s really, really frustrating. I don’t know how, in my eyes, my eyes I guess only, I don’t know how that’s not a goal.”
Earlier in the season facing the Blackhawks in Chicago, the Lightning had a nearly identical situation but in reverse, the call again going against the Bolts. On that play, Kris Versteeg was lightly shoved in the back by Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman near goal, and Versteeg used the opportunity to fall into Bolts goalie Ben Bishop. With Bishop interfered, Brad Richards shot into the open goal.
In this instance, the referees ruled Stralman’s shove had initiated the contact with Versteeg on Bishop, so the goal stood.
The same thing appeared to happen to Callahan on Saturday, but the referees saw it differently.
“The league’s gathering information,” Cooper said Sunday. “They’re not going to jump in and overhaul something because one team it’s kind of worked against them, nor should they do that. But, ultimately, I think Toronto’s probably going to have to get involved a little bit at some point, the War Room, just in the sense that, the game is so fast now, there’s so many things going on, the refs have so many things to watch for, goalie interference is one of a plethora of things they’ve got to watch…If we have a chance to, I guess, add to the percentages of getting it right, then we have to take those steps.”
2. The Lightning penalty kill stepped up
Washington entered Saturday’s game as the number one power-play unit in the NHL with 22 goals in 79 opportunities (27.8 percent).
Tampa Bay, however, kept the Capitals power play off the board.
The Caps went 0-for-4 with the man advantage and were denied during three straight power plays in the first period to keep the game scoreless.
In fact, the Lightning’s best chances to score in the opening period came shorthanded. Defenseman Matt Carle had a great look at goal but sent his shot wide of the net following Jonathan Drouin’s tripping penalty. Later in the period, Valtteri Filppula nearly converted a shorthanded opportunity with Alex Killorn in the penalty box for holding.
The Lightning penalty kill kept the Bolts in the game against the Caps. It was another special teams unit, though, that let Tampa Bay down.
3. Not scoring during a 5-on-3 power play was the beginning of the end for Tampa Bay
The Lightning did well to hold up in the first period when every call went the Capitals’ way. In the second, the Bolts finally got their opportunity, gaining a 5-on-3 advantage after Alex Ovechkin (roughing) and Mike Green (hooking) were whistled for simultaneous penalties.
Tampa Bay, couldn’t take advantage, however, and the game turned at that point in favor of the Capitals.
Holtby stepped up big in a critical situation for Washington. Callahan had a sure goal on a rebound attempt pulled off the line by the Caps goalie with a last-second sweep of his stick, one of the best saves this season in the NHL.
A minute later, the Capitals completed the penalty kill, sending the 18,506 fans at the Verizon Center into delirium. Less than two minutes after, Backstrom scored the first of his three goals.
The momentum shift was complete, and Tampa Bay never recovered.