TAMPA — After the Lightning’s Game 3 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday at Amalie Arena, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe credited Tampa Bay’s game and gamesmanship.
Asked about Lightning stars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov fighting the Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and Ryan O’Reilly following a third-period hit by Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly that temporarily knocked Brayden Point out of the game, Keefe called it “a classic example of a championship team like Tampa Bay manipulating the officials and taking advantage of the situation.”
Stamkos and Kucherov are near the bottom of the list of players likely to drop their gloves due to their value as top skill players. But in the heat of the moment, seeing their team’s top goal scorer sent headfirst into the boards prompted them to jump into action.
When the dust settled, Stamkos, Kucherov, Matthews, O’Reilly, Rielly and Lightning defenseman Darren Raddysh were in the penalty box, giving the Maple Leafs a power play that Tampa Bay killed.
When Lightning coach Jon Cooper was asked Sunday about Keefe’s comment, he first had a perplexed look and then scoffed at the notion.
“Manipulating the referees, I’m not sure what that means,” Cooper said. “But I would say this. When that hit happened, I think everybody watching at home and everybody in the building thought, including us, that we were going on a power play. So, our two best power-play players, I don’t think they would ever sit there and take themselves off the power play unless they thought something unjust had happened.
“Auston Matthews doesn’t kill penalties. So that actually worked against us, to be honest. We ended up being shorthanded after that (fight), but I don’t think anybody thought that was going to happen at the time.”
‘It looked like he was in a car accident’
The sight of Point struggling to get off the ice after Rielly’s hit, stumbling and holding his chest, was “a tough, tough visual,” Cooper said. Few expected Point to return to the game, but he did and finished it.
Still, it’s no guarantee that Point will play in Game 4 on Monday night.
“(The play) looked awful,” Cooper said. “When you see that, you’re thinking the worst. There were so many precautions that went on. The fact that he came back and played, that was just amazing in itself, but he went through so many different tests, and he was struggling, there’s no doubt about it.
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“I haven’t seen him yet (Sunday). So I don’t know how he’s going to feel, but it looked like he was in a car accident the way he went into that wall. So, a really scary situation, and hopefully he’s going to be OK to play (Monday night).”
Cooper defended Rielly’s character but didn’t absolve him of responsibility.
“Morgan, I know him personally, and I think he’s a super, super human being,” Cooper said. “He’s got a great family. He’s not a dirty player. Was the incident reckless? For sure.”
Hedman: ‘I expect more out of myself’
After leaving following the first period of Game 1 due to an undisclosed injury, Victor Hedman sat out Game 2 but returned Saturday and played 32:35. The Lightning’s top defenseman talked Sunday about how difficult it was to sit out Game 2.
“It’s the worst feeling not being out there competing with the guys,” Hedman said. “Very happy to get back in there (Saturday) and feel pretty good. I expect more out of myself, and just get ready to go again (Monday night).
“But this is the time of the year when you really want to be out there competing and playing these kind of games. We have the depth, but at the same time, as a player you always want to be able to go out. … It’s far more nerve-wracking sitting on the sidelines not being able to contribute and make a difference. So, it was a lot of fun to get back into action (Saturday).”
Hedman was plus-1 in Game 3 and took 11 shots, though only one was on net.
Quote of the day
“Our goaltender? He’s the man. That kid, we’re nowhere without him. He’s the best in the world, and one thing about ‘Vasy’ is, he gets stronger as series go on. So, I can see it in him.”
— Cooper, when asked about Andrei Vasilevskiy’s play
Odds and ends
Cooper said Lightning top right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak is out for Game 4. Cernak hasn’t skated since taking an illegal hit to the head from Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting in Game 1. The hit got Bunting suspended for three games. … Maple Leafs forward Sam Lafferty was fined $3,108.11, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, for a high cross-check to Lightning forward Ross Colton during the second period of Game 3.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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