Friday, November 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Bad call ruins stellar Lightning effort

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MONTREAL

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered in the end. Maybe the Lightning would have lost anyway.

After all, it was only one call in a 60-minute hockey game. There was plenty of time before and a lot of time after to see to it that one call would not make a difference.

One call rarely is the sole reason a team wins or loses any game, and if you're good enough, you should be able to overcome a lousy referee.

You ever notice how you never hear bellyaching coming out of the winner's locker room?

Okay, now that all that classy stuff is out of the way, let's get right to it:

The Lightning was robbed!

Tampa Bay was the victim of an awful call, a horrible call, a call that pretty much ends this series and, therefore, pretty much ends the season.

Now the hole looks like this: Canadiens, with an assist from a friend in stripes, 3, Lightning 0.

A comeback seems unlikely.

Perhaps it would sting less if the Lightning played poorly Sunday night. Maybe it would have no right to complain if the Canadiens were clearly the better team.

But the Lightning didn't play poorly. The Canadiens weren't the better team.

The Lightning turned in its best performance of the series on Sunday. It should have won. It deserved to win.

But it still wasn't good enough to beat the Canadiens, and it sure wasn't good enough to beat referee Francis Charron.

How do you say "raw deal" in French?

With the score tied late in the second period, Charron waved off a Lightning goal, saying the Lightning's Alex Killorn got in the way of Montreal goalie Carey Price.

It's a call that will live in Lightning lore.

In a matter of minutes, the Lightning went from being up a goal to trailing by a goal on its way to a disheartening 3-2 loss.

"Wonder what the first question is going to be," Lightning coach Jon Cooper cracked in his postgame news conference.

He was joking, but he wasn't laughing.

Cooper pleaded with the media not to make it look like he had "sour grapes."

But Cooper was ticked. He said he was ticked (actually, he used a much harsher word) right after the call and well after the game.

He had every reason to be.

Tampa Bay should be alive and well in this series. Instead, it's 60 minutes from golf season.

Let's also get this part out of the way: Yes, Charron is from Gatineau, just up the road from Montreal.

Is that fair to point out? Probably not.

For years, the NHL has had to fight the ugly perception that the Canadiens get all the calls, particularly when at home and particularly from Quebec-born officials.

I've never been one to buy into that conspiracy theory, and I don't think that is what happened Sunday night.

Charron didn't make the worst call of his career because it was the Canadiens or because the game was in Montreal or because he is from Quebec. Charron made the call because, at least for a few moments, he was completely incompetent.

It wasn't the only iffy call of the night to go against the Lightning.

"It seemed like everything was kind of going against us," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We deserved a lot better. … The disallowed goal is tough to swallow."

Did Killorn make contact with Price? Absolutely. Even Killorn admitted so after the game. He even admitted that he initiated the initial contact.

But, after Price was knocked down, he got up again and knocked back into Killorn, who had been tied up by Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban. It looked as if Price had plenty of time to regain control and stop Ryan Callahan's shot from going into the net.

Debate the rule all you want. Dissect every letter of that particular law. Ultimately, there's what's right and what's just.

Here's what is right: The Lightning deserved that goal.

Now, after all this, you wonder if the Lightning has anything left emotionally for a do-or-die Game 4 on Tuesday night.

It gave up a goal a mere 11 seconds into Game 3. At that point, the Lightning could have packed it in.

Instead, it fought harder than it had at any point in this series.

The defense was sharper. The forwards were more physical. And goalie Anders Lindback was superb, keeping the Lightning in the game until it could finally generate some offensive pressure.

Tampa Bay played with emotion. It played with intensity. For the first time, it played like it was the playoffs.

And it still ended up with absolutely nothing to show for it.

Ultimately, the Canadiens have been the better team in this series and if either team deserves to be up 3-0, it's Montreal.

But the Lightning should have won Sunday night. At the very worst, it should have played overtime.

Instead, it was on the wrong end of a bad call.

And now you can just about call it a season.



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