TAMPA, Fla. - The struggling Tampa Bay Lightning can't get a break.
Milan Hejduk was awarded the lone goal in a shootout when Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith was penalized for throwing his stick, and the Colorado Avalanche beat the Lightning 2-1 on Thursday night. Smith's stick came loose when he was making a save on Hejduk's backhander. After discussing the play for several minutes, the officials awarded the goal.
"They huddled to make the decision to see if they felt the stick was thrown," NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy said in a phone interview from Toronto. "And if a stick is thrown, as outlined in Rule 26.4, they can award a goal and that's what they did in this case. There was a strong feeling that his stick was thrown."
As Tampa Bay interim coach Rick Tocchet argued the call, some fans threw debris onto the ice. After Martin St. Louis failed to score on the Lightning's final shootout attempt, several players continued arguing with referees Tim Peel and Brian Pochmara.
"I know it's a quick game and things happen fast, but there's four refs on the ice, not one," Smith said. "They have the angles covered. I made the save and then I had to drop the stick because my stick was going to come up in the air. You can't make that call at that point in the game. The save was already made.
"I guess if you're winning, if you're up in the standings, those calls seem to go your way."
Peel and Pochmara were not made available to the media.
"I've asked them not to speak to anybody," Murphy said. "I said I don't think any good can come out of it. There's a hot environment down there right now, and I think it's best that they not speak because I don't want them getting trapped. That's all."
Tocchet called the decision "a tough one to swallow."
"My phone's been blowing up by NHL people that are friends of mine who said that's a terrible call," Tocchet said.
Colorado coach Tony Granato said the referees' call was "gutsy" and "right."
"If the goalie throws his stick in an attempt to stop a penalty shot or shootout opportunity, it's an automatic goal," Granato said.
Paul Stastny scored the Colorado goal in regulation, and Andrew Raycroft stopped 37 shots.
Jeff Halpern, playing in his first game of the season after being sidelined by a knee injury, scored for Tampa Bay, which has lost 16 of 18. Smith made 34 saves.
Stastny put Colorado up 1-0 from in close at 3:46 of the first.
Halpern, who had reconstructive knee surgery in June, tied it at one from the slot at 7:35 of the second. The centre was hurt during while playing for the United States at the world hockey championships.
"I felt good," Halpern said. "Pretty nervous before the game. I'm not exactly where I want to be as far as the way I played, but I was pretty happy to be back."
The Lightning almost won it with 1:09 left in overtime, but St. Louis' backhander hit the post.
Tampa Bay is 4-14 in one-goal games this season.
Notes: Lightning LW Ryan Malone (upper body) returned after missing five games. ... Colorado RW Darcy Tucker was in the lineup after missing 11 games due to a knee injury. RW Ben Guite played after sitting out 17 games because of injured ribs. ... Tampa Bay recalled G Karri Ramo from Norfolk (AHL) on an emergency basis to replace injured backup G Olie Kolzig (upper body). ... Avalanche RW Marek Svatos (back) missed his fourth consecutive game. ... Tampa Bay LW Gary Roberts said he will probably retire after the season. He is currently out with an elbow injury.