It’s rare to see Lightning captain Steven Stamkos so animated, but when he was called for a high-sticking penalty in the final minutes of Tampa Bay’s 6-4 loss Thursday in Detroit, Stamkos didn’t hesitate to yell across the ice to get the officials’ attention.
“Review it, review it,” Stamkos could be heard shouting on the Lightning television broadcast.
Reviews have been rare this season, but Tampa Bay made one challenge during the game and officials reviewed another call. One went against the Lightning, the other in their favor.
With 1:08 remaining, the Lightning had cut the Red Wings’ lead to a goal when Stamkos and Detroit captain Dylan Larkin met for a faceoff in Tampa Bay’s offensive zone. Stamkos won the faceoff — he’s unquestionably the team’s best player in the dot — but Larkin took a spill afterward, drawing the high-sticking penalty.
The usually collected Stamkos became incensed, yelling at Larkin — the two have a history dating back to a famous fight in 2015 — arguing with the official and then incessantly calling for a review. Penalty calls can be reviewed at the discretion of the referee.
The review clearly showed there was no high stick by Stamkos; rather, Larkin’s own stick hit him in the face. Stamkos returned from the box and back to the circle, where he had some more words with Larkin.
“So much of the game is, like, under a microscope now, so you don’t want an erroneous call to affect potentially the outcome of the game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And it’s not the refs’ fault when the guy gets hit with his stick.
“And the game happens so fast, and instinct is 98 percent of the time it’s the other player doing it. You just don’t get it wrong and the refs didn’t get it wrong. And I thought it played out properly the way it should have.”
Stamkos said in some ways the damage already had been done once the play was blown dead after the Lightning won the faceoff.
“I knew I didn’t high-stick him, so I knew it,” Stamkos said. “It just sucks that you win the faceoff, they blow the play dead, you never know what’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, as a player you just want them to get the call right, and good for them. They reviewed it, got it right and we had some more chances.”
A Red Wings empty-net goal with 20 seconds left eventually sealed the game.
Late in the first period, Detroit was credited with a goal when Tampa Bay goaltender Curtis McElhinney stopped Anthony Mantha’s shot but was pushed into the net with the puck when Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta collided with him as he was tangled with Mantha.
The Lightning’s challenge was unsuccessful, and the Lightning had to kill off a two-minute delay-of-game penalty for losing the challenge.
Cooper contested after the game that Mantha’s stick played a role in pushing McElhinney into the net.
“Yeah, to me, I thought Mantha’s stick pushed McElhinney in the net,” Cooper said. “I mean, you look at it live and it looks like Rutta did it, but it was Mantha’s stick. If Rutta’s not in there, McElhinney still goes into the net because of Mantha’s stick. That’s my opinion. It wasn’t theirs. We got two (minutes) to kill.”
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No evaluating McElhinney
Thursday’s 17-save performance was just McElhinney’s fifth appearance of the season. He’d probably have played more, but his season debut was delayed by a two-week stint on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list. And he’s had some strong outings, including a 31-save display in a 3-1 win over Carolina on Feb. 25.
McElhinney did allow five goals on Thursday and six on 21 shots in a loss to Florida in his second start of the season. And the Lightning are just 7-8-1 in McElhinney’s last 16 starts dating back to last season.
But Cooper gave full support to his backup goaltender, saying that four of Detroit’s goals were a result of Tampa Bay turnovers that left McElhinney with little defense.
“There’s no evaluating Mac,” Cooper said of the 37-year-old McElhinney, who is in his 13th NHL season. “The reason he has been in the league for so long and has had a successful career is that he’s a good goalie. And he hasn’t played a ton. I don’t know, if we don’t turn some of those pucks over, maybe those situations don’t play out the way they did. But he’s earned his stripes in this league, so I’m not sure I understand the (idea of) evaluating him.”
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