Should Nazem Kadri's overtime goal have counted? Lightning lament NHL's 'judgment call' after Avalanche had too many men on the ice

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TAMPA -- No one knew the puck was in. Nazem Kadri didn't. Andrei Vasilevskiy didn't. The officials didn't.

It wasn't until Bowen Byram came sprinting in and pointed at the puck lodged in the back of the net that the Avs realized they had just won Game 4 in overtime and were now one victory away from winning the Stanley Cup. 

However, the question of did the puck go in or not wasn't what Lightning coach Jon Cooper had an issue with. Cooper answered one question during his postgame availability, giving an emotionally obscure response when initially asked about the team's performance in the first period. 

He began by discussing how hard it is to win in this league and how much the loss was going to sting, going in a much different direction than discussing the first 20 minutes of the game like the question asked. However, Cooper then ended it by mentioning the game-winning goal and that he felt it should not have counted. 

"I’ll speak with you tomorrow," Cooper said. "You’re going to see what I mean when you see that goal. My heart breaks for the players because we probably still should be playing. I’ll be available tomorrow."

MORE: When and where is Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final?

A befuddled group was left in the media room, looking to each other trying to determine what it was that Cooper was talking about. The puck had clearly gone into the net, albeit the delayed realization on the ice. 

What came about afterwards, upon further review, was the realization that there were six Avalanche players on the ice when Kadri beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on the blocker side. 

It's clear that there were six skaters, one more than allowed, on the ice when Kadri was racing in for the overtime goal. 

It wasn't just Cooper who made the distinction that there were too many men. On the official scoresheet handed out to the media after the Avs' win, it had six Colorado players listed as being on the ice when Kadri scored.

Kadri was asked about it as well after the game, and he expressed his confusion on why Cooper would have thought the goal should have been disallowed. 

"I’m not quite sure what he was thinking, why it shouldn’t have counted," Kadri said. "That kind of confuses me a little bit. The puck hit the back of the net."

Should Kadri's overtime goal have counted?

The freeze frame and video are not a great look, where you can see six players in white Colorado jerseys on the ice and then MacKinnon slow to get to the bench.

The fact that the scoresheet had six Avs listed for the goal as well doesn't help. However, interestingly enough, MacKinnon, No. 29, isn't listed in the box score. 

According to Rule 74.1 of the NHL rulebook states too many men as the following:

Players may be changed at any time during the play from the players’ bench provided that the player or players leaving the ice shall be within five feet (5') of his players’ bench and out of the play before the change is made ... When a player is retiring from the ice surface and is within the five foot (5’) limit of his players’ bench, and his substitute is on the ice, then the retiring player shall be considered off the ice for the purpose

Given the time between when Kadri hopped on the ice and MacKinnon got to the bench, it looks to be more than five feet. 

Here's where there's grey area. Skaters never, ever wait until their teammate is five feet from the bench before coming onto the ice. Players constantly change early before their teammate is deemed to be "off the ice."

If the officials were to truly call it by the rulebook, there would be too many men penalties getting doled out left and right. Either it's called every time, or you give some leeway and don't call it unless it's obvious. You can't change the way you judge and enforce the rule just because it happened in overtime of a decisive game in the Stanley Cup Final.

No way was that call happening in that moment on that big of a stage.

The NHL released a statement backing up that notion. 

It's a play that Cooper and the Lightning should be familiar with. The game-winning goal in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Final against the Islanders was deemed controversial as it appeared as though the Lightning had seven players on the ice during Yanni Gourde's goal. 

The loss stings enough, and in Tampa Bay's mind, they may feel as though they got robbed.

But it doesn't matter now, as the team needs to regroup ahead of Friday's Game 5, where the Lightning have their backs against the wall and are on the verge of elimination. 

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Bryan Murphy is an NHL Content Producer for The Sporting News. He previously worked at NBC Sports and is a graduate of Quinnipiac University.