TAMPA — Though the Lightning and Kings met Saturday for the only time this season, with the gritty, chippy way they played, you would have thought they were division rivals.
But for Tampa Bay, the biggest blow of the hard-hitting — and heartbreaking — 2-1 shootout loss was delivered with two minutes left in overtime, when a potential winning goal by Andrej Meszaros was disallowed due to goalie interference. Given new life, the Kings handed the Lightning its fifth shootout loss in six tries, as center Anze Kopitar was the only one of six shooters to score.
To the Lightning, the loss likely felt like a punch in the gut.
"A terrible call," goalie Antero Niittymaki said of the overtime ruling. "We won that game. I don't know what happened. … It's a terrible feeling. It's nothing to do with you or your teammates. It's something you can't control. … We're all human. We all make mistakes."
The Lightning (7-4-6) had already celebrated after Meszaros, from the blue line, ripped his shot, which appeared to get deflected past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. But after referee Frederick L'Ecuyer, positioned behind the net, called it a goal, he consulted with the other officials and then disallowed it, saying Lightning center Paul Szczechura interfered with Quick, who was at the top of the crease.
Szczechura said he was trying to screen Quick but was pushed into him by Kings defenseman Sean O'Donnell.
"I'm going to try to avoid (Quick) at all costs if I can, but obviously I couldn't get out of the way," Szczechura said. "It's a tough break for us."
Coach Rick Tocchet said referees explained it to him as "incidental contact." The play wasn't reviewable, and NHL referee supervisor Don Koharski, who was at the game, said, "In the eyes of the referee (L'Ecuyer), the goaltender was clearly interfered with by the attacking player."
The Lightning had attacked throughout the game and played better overall than it did in its Thursday shootout win over the Wild. It got another stellar effort from Niittymaki, who stopped 29 shots, including a nifty glove save on a shot by Kopitar near the crease just more than a minute into the second period.
They even got another clutch goal by Ryan Malone, who scored a crafty wraparound on a rebound with 8:21 left in regulation for his 12th of the season.
But unlike Thursday, when a tying goal by Malone in regulation spurred the Lightning's first shootout win, all three Tampa Bay shooters (Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Alex Tanguay) missed their shootout attempts.
Kings coach Terry Murray pointed out that "not one player on our bench moved" after Meszaros scored, saying they knew "that there was going to be a conversation about it." When the goal was disallowed, many of the 16,612 at the St. Pete Times Forum joined in a chorus of boos.
"I can't give you an impartial opinion, but when I look at it, in my experience it was the correct call," Murray said. "O'Donnell did not cross-check (Szczechura ); he did not push him. There has to be an attempt by the player to stop. … It's the correct call, in my view of it."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com
|Kings win shootout 1-0|
First Period—None. Penalties—Handzus, LA (charging), 8:20; Simmonds, LA (roughing), 8:20; Malone, TB (roughing), 8:20; Ivanans, LA, major (fighting), 11:25; Konopka, TB, major (fighting), 11:25; Simmonds, LA (roughing), 17:39; Malone, TB (hooking), 18:57.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Ohlund, TB (cross-checking), 3:06; Stamkos, TB (cross-checking), 15:41; Doughty, LA (tripping), 17:52.
Third Period—1, Los Angeles, Doughty 4 (Kopitar, Smyth), 7:20 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Malone 12 (Hale, Stamkos), 11:39. Penalties—Smyth, LA (slashing), :25; Greene, LA (roughing), 5:41; Simmonds, LA, misconduct, 5:41; Konopka, TB, misconduct, 5:41; Downie, TB (roughing), 5:41; Krajicek, TB (tripping), 6:01; Brown, LA (hooking), 8:06.
Shootout—Los Angeles 1 (Kopitar G, Johnson NG, Brown NG), Tampa Bay 0 (Lecavalier NG, Stamkos NG, Tanguay NG). Shots on Goal—Los Angeles 7-11-10-2—30. Tampa Bay 8-10-9-2—29. Power-play opportunities—Los Angeles 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 0 of 5. Goalies—Los Angeles, J.Quick 11-6-2 (29 shots-28 saves). Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 5-1-3 (30-29). A—16,612 (19,758).