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NHL supports controversial shootout call in Tampa Bay Lightning loss to Colorado Avalanche

With the puck on Milan Hejduk’s stick, goalie Mike Smith loses his stick. Officials ruled it disrupted the shot and awarded a goal.

DIRK SHADD | Times

With the puck on Milan Hejduk’s stick, goalie Mike Smith loses his stick. Officials ruled it disrupted the shot and awarded a goal.

Mike Smith figured the only way to fight disappointment and anger was with humor.

So the Lightning goalie, before heading out for Friday's practice at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, secured his stick to his blocker glove with black electric tape.

"Smitty doing that really lightened the mood," coach Rick Tocchet said.

The team needed it after Thursday's emotional loss that ended with Smith trying to confront the on-ice officials, teammates interceding and fans throwing debris.

Smith was ruled to have thrown his stick during Milan Hejduk's shootout try. The result: an automatic goal that gave Colorado a 1-0 win in the shootout and a 2-1 victory in the game.

"A gutsy call," said Stephen Walkom, the NHL's director of officiating. "A call that was made in an instant. I support the call."

Smith again said he did not throw his stick while making a sprawling blocker save. Drop it? Yes. But deliberately throw it, as the rule says must be done for the officials to award a goal? No.

"I'm not poke-checking or throwing my stick into his feet or at the puck," Smith said. "I stopped it. I didn't even stop it with my stick."

With a game tonight in Atlanta, and Tampa Bay desperate to reverse a 3-12-6 slide, Smith said, "It (stinks). It hurts, but we have to put it behind us."

"The unfortunate thing, in my opinion, is when players work that hard, they deserve a better fate," general manager Brian Lawton said. "They put in a good effort, and it feels like (they get) robbed."

Even so, Lawton said, "I'm pretty comfortable with the explanations I've been given" by league officials.

Besides, he added, "There's not much more to be done at this stage. You make note of it. I think they know they owe us one, and you move forward."

Easier said than done for Tocchet, who repeated that he did not get an explanation at the bench as to which official made the call and how it was determined.

"I just want to know who stepped up to the plate and what they saw," Tocchet said. "That's the only thing I had a tough time with. I didn't get any answers."

Walkom confirmed that referee Brian Pochmara, trailing Hejduk on the shootout, prompted the minuteslong discussion among the four officials that led to the ruling.

Walkom explained the scene: "Brian is adamant, 'This isn't right. I saw (Smith) release the stick. I saw him in a desperate situation.'

"Then they begin the process, 'Are you sure? Yes, I'm sure.' They talked about it, and there was no element of doubt."

Walkom conceded that Pochmara probably should have been in the group that gave Tocchet the news. But he said that because referee Tim Peel and linesman Dave Schachte are friendly with Tocchet, they believed they could better handle it.

"Maybe the only thing we could have done better is both referees could have gone to the bench," he said. "But Brian wasn't hiding behind making the call. They were trying to read the emotions of the coach and handle it accordingly."

Would Walkom favor expanding video review to help handle such situations? No, he said. "Where does it stop? It's a judgment call. You can watch this play 1,000 times, and the only thing to say is the decision that was made you need to support.

"They're there," he said of the officials. "They have a sense of what happened on the play. The video could argue it either way. At the end of the day, the guys on the ice make a judgment call and you have to support it. I don't think the video refutes it."

Smith begs to differ.

NOTES: Center Jussi Jokinen is on waivers. It will be known at noon today if he clears or is claimed by another team. … Defenseman Steve Eminger missed practice for what the team called "body maintenance."

NHL supports controversial shootout call in Tampa Bay Lightning loss to Colorado Avalanche 12/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 11:36am]
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