Wed Dec 29 10:44am EST
With 1:50 separating the Tampa Bay Lightning from earning a charity point in a hard-fought game against the Boston Bruins, Steven Stamkos(notes) back-checked in his own zone and sent Bruins forward Gregory Campbell(notes) flying into the boards.
Campbell was about to play the puck when Stamkos hit him in that gray area between the back and the side. The referee whistled the play dead, calling Stamkos for a boarding minor. Mark Recchi(notes) scored on the ensuing power play to give the Bruins a 4-3 lead with 20 seconds left, and Boston skated out of Tampa with that margin of victory.
The play in question, and the aftermath:
The Lightning claim they were robbed on this one. And considering the victim of the hit, there's an extra layer of cynicism here as well.
The call was made by veteran official Don VanMassenhoven, who was trailing the play. Lightning coach Guy Boucher and Stamkos told the Tampa Tribune that they disagreed with his assessment:
"Not a penalty, a shoulder on shoulder hit,'' Boucher said. "I've watched it 10, 12 times and I still can't get myself to see what others saw. ... This is a game I firmly believe should have went to overtime. It's just very, very difficult to swallow for everybody, everybody. I'm not going to point my finger at my players for this one. They battled hard enough to win this game. It was not decided on something I could control."
"I talked to (the official) after the game and he asked me if the guy was expecting the hit. I mean, it's hockey and he had the puck. I mean, it's shoulder-to-shoulder," Stamkos said. "He went into the boards pretty hard, but by no means am I trying to hurt the guy. From my vantage point, I was coming hard on the backcheck, he had the puck and my left shoulder hit his right shoulder. So I don't know why it was a penalty."
Well, anyone with a tinfoil hat and an eye for redacted emails might have a theory.
Travis Hughes from SB Nation: "Cue the 'it's Colin Campbell's son!' conspiracies..."
Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune: "The Lightning center charged in and made a clear shoulder-on-shoulder hit that knocked Campbell, the son of NHL Senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell, off the puck and into the boards."
Colin Campbell and the NHL can regurgitate their "much ado about nothing" messages about the email controversy that hit last month, in which the NHL VP openly discussed calls made or not made in reference to his son, Gregory. Former NHL ref Dean Warren, although having an obvious gripe with the league after taking it to court, claimed that Campbell was indirectly pressuring referees over games that involved his son.
Right or wrong, fact or fiction, here is the fallout from the email controversy: Stamkos gets whistled for boarding not against a Bruins player but against "the son of NHL Senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell."
Is there a chance in hell that wasn't a lingering thought for fans watching this game? Is there a chance in hell that connection wasn't made by enraged Lightning players behind closed doors Tuesday night?
Perceptions have changed, and there's no going back.
(Ed. Note: In case there's any confusion, image at the top not from Tuesday night.)