Lightning criticize officiating after Kucherov leaves following dirty slash

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers are facing each other in the first all-Florida playoff series and it is getting heated.

During the third period of Game 4’s decisive 6-2 Lightning win, star winger Nikita Kucherov received a vicious slash to the back of his knee from Panthers forward Anthony Duclair behind the play. The strike caused Kucherov to tumble down to the ice and he would need assistance getting off of it.

"There's nothing wrong with message-sending, tone-setting,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after the post-play slash. “Let's do it in the parameters in the game and there are guys with stripes that can control it. If it's not controlled, (nights like tonight happen) and there are guys lying on the ice because of it."

The sense of unruly officiating has been building up through missed calls and inconsistency across the eight playoff series. Even earlier in this match, Kucherov was involved in a confusing penalty after getting pushed into Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.

"You can tell from the reaction from our bench that it's not the cleanest play,” Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman said about Duclair’s slash. “But it's out of my reach and we can't do anything about it now. If it was dirty, we know we have people looking at it."

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has certainly been busy the last few weeks: Tom Wilson slamming heads to end the season, Sam Bennett receiving a one-game suspension for a dirty play in this very Floridian playoff series, and most recently Nazem Kadri scrambling Justin Faulk’s brain, resulting in an eight-game suspension.

If, as Hedman says, this slash from Duclair is considered dirty, someone will certainly be looking at it.

In his return to play after almost a year’s absence, Kucherov has three goals and nine points through just four games. It would be a significant loss for the reigning Stanley Cup champions if the 2019 Hart Trophy winner is out for any length of time.

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