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Lightning head coach Jon Cooper delivered a brief, emotional press conference after Nazem Kadri's controversial Game 4 overtime winner.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: "Yahoo Sports Hockey Podcast" Stanley Cup Final, short edition, after game 4 between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning. And we have, officially, a series stranglehold. The Avalanche win in overtime, 3-2, at Amalie Arena to get a chance to go home and win the Stanley Cup in front of those fans. They're going to be cheering all those '90s hits all night long.
It was a storybook ending, but it was a mildly controversial ending with Nazem Kadri scoring the winner about, you know, 10 minutes into the overtime period, breaking what was a legendary short run of form by Andrei Vasilevskiy, but we'll get into that in a minute.
But really there are two main storylines coming out of this one. It's Kadri and it's John Cooper, who had an interesting take on what happened on that overtime winner. And we'll get to that in a moment, though, because I want to start with the most important headline. And that is Nazem Kadri hitting the apex on his personal redemption arc.
Of course, we all know the history with this guy, right? Suspended in three straight Stanley Cup appearances-- Stanley Cup playoff appearances, continuously letting down his teams, traded away from the Toronto Maple Leafs because they just couldn't have him out there getting suspended once again. Does the exact same thing in Colorado, and comes back this year, and not only does he keep his nose clean after what was his best season as a professional, but he was outstanding for the Colorado Avalanche through the first two-plus rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And that's why people were really beaten up after he got shoved into the boards from behind by Evander Kane in the Western Conference Final, broke his thumb, needed surgery, looked like he wasn't going to be a factor at all in the Stanley Cup Final, and yet he comes back here for game 4 and not only plays a role but provides the single biggest moment of the Avalanche's season so far.
It started as though it was looking more like a Brayden Point scenario, where he came back and maybe he wasn't going to be much of a factor. It looked like he was deferring. It looked like he was trying to get up to speed a little bit when they started the game and he was playing on a second line.
I think there was actually a lineup change. They were mixing up the top six a little bit, maybe because Nazem Kadri wasn't exactly doing what they needed him to do, or they just needed to make an adjustment based on what they came in with. But this looks like it's going to be the return that matters most. Of course, he's provided that massive, massive moment. But Brayden Point isn't even in the series anymore because he got back, perhaps, too soon, or perhaps he should have came back at all, and he had to exit the lineup for Jon Cooper. And maybe he doesn't play a role in the Stanley Cup Final after the first two games.
I did not expect, based on how Kadri looked early, that he'd be able to shoot let alone put the move that he put on Mikhail Sergachev to create his own scoring opportunity and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was unbeatable on clean looks the entire night. The only two goals he had let in before that were dirty, dirty goals, off bodies, off skates.
Nothing, it seemed, was going to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy clean in what was probably his best performance of the series. But Kadri put a move on Sergachev and beat Vasilevskiy. And no one in the arena knew, because once it tucked under Vasilevskiy arm, it tucked into the top of the net. And we had a delayed celebration, but a celebration nonetheless, for Nazem Kadri, who as I mentioned, has now hit the APEX on his personal redemption arc.
And he is going to get paid this summer as a big-time point producer in the NHL, but perhaps now as a Stanley Cup champion and one that played a major, major role in a Stanley Cup champion. But there's still one more victory that the Avalanche have to get over the next three possible games.
But what will get all the attention is the comments from Jon Cooper. He came to the podium to start his media session, and took the first question, and started into this, like, seemingly reflective, philosophical sort of answer like-- not unlike we haven't seen from him before, where he's talking about the journey, and all the people that are great to the Lightning, and everything that goes into getting to this point, and all the hard work and everything.
And then it ended very, very bizarrely and abruptly, with him leaving this bizarre cliffhanger that suggested that the Lightning should be still playing in the game as he was speaking because it shouldn't have ended, and that's because-- well, it was open to interpretation.
But he suggested that when we looked at it under a closer lens, we would find out exactly what he was talking about. So of course, everyone's rushing to watch what happened with the goal. And it looks like the prevailing theory is that there were six Avalanche on the ice. And he's right. There were. There were also seven Lightning on the ice at the time of the goal.
But Nathan MacKinnon had yet to fully and completely finish his change when he was coming off the ice. Was Kadri the player that came off for him? If it's center takes off center, then I guess so. So the player that Kadri came on for was still on the ice when he collected the puck and scored. And I guess that's an issue.
But when you're changing on the fly, you kind of, like, surrender yourself at a certain point. I don't even know if this is baked into the rulebook. But once you get to the bench, to prevent people from flying into the benches, and skates, and so on and so forth, if you get there, you're kind of given the grace period of stepping over the boards without having to do so in too much of a rush.
And I think, under any other circumstances, this would not be a huge deal. But when a coach who is vying for a third consecutive Stanley Cup sees something that he believes should have-- at least something that he can point out as to the illegality of a certain goal, I guess he's going to do it.
But it felt like sour grapes, honestly, if I'm being-- if I'm going to give you my actual opinion. It was sour grapes. It was a coach finding a reason to be upset because he is upset. He's upset that it looks like the Lightning are not going to win that third straight Stanley Cup. He's upset that the Lightning are going to Colorado needing a victory because they failed to get it done on home ice in game 4. This was the big moment of the series. This was the swing point of the series. And it didn't, for the first time in forever, go the Lightning's way.
And when you're a little aggrieved and you're a little upset, you find someone else to blame. And it looks like Jon Cooper was just trying to blame the officials.
Now, there are other theories, because, as I mentioned, it's subtle and it's bizarre and it's somewhat out of character. So the other theory is that Bowen Byram knocked down a cleared puck with a high stick that Darcy Kuemper collected, and they moved it back up ice to score the goal. And if that's it, because you'd have to-- I mean, that's just a judgment call, in the moment, that really doesn't matter. They're going to get the puck anyway. Kuemper's probably going to get it maybe even quicker if Bowen Byram doesn't touch it.
But whatever. Either way, he's complaining about something that is pretty trivial, something that didn't really affect the play at all. Nathan MacKinnon having yet to step over the boards didn't affect the play at all. And I think that's the main point that I'm trying to drive home here, is that Kadri's story is better than Cooper's story.
I think the emotions got the best of the Lightning head coach in this moment. And I don't know what sort of message this sends the Lightning and his group. I'm not going to pretend that I know the dynamic better than Jon Cooper knows it. But he looked like someone who was resigned to the fact that it just wasn't going to go their way this time. And if I'm in the dressing room, I don't know if I like that. But again, I think coach and team understand each other pretty well.
Also odd-- on the game sheet, all six players, including McKinnon, were listed as on the ice when the goal was scored. And you'd have to think that the NHL will be a little bit angry with the person responsible for that. I don't know if that's something that's done in-house by Tampa Bay Lightning people, but that's not a good look for the NHL to have, on their official score sheet, six players listed, because clearly that indicates that something went wrong. And I guess they knew what John Cooper was talking about before everybody else seemed to know what John Cooper was talking about.
The only reason, though, that the Lightning were still playing, to that point, was because of their goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy. He was outstanding in the game, making 35 saves on 38 shots. Again, as I mentioned, the only thing that beat him clean was Nazem Kadri's goal. And I guess he could have had it, but he was so, so good, especially in overtime. He made 10 saves before that. Basically all of my notes from the overtime period was just another remark on an outstanding thing that Andrei Vasilevskiy did to keep the game going.
He clearly has rediscovered his bogeyman form here in Tampa Bay after, what, the first period or so of game 3, he's been absolutely sensational. And he was certainly growing into this game. Both of the goals from the Avalanche in regulation basically just came off lucky bounces that he clearly could not be blamed for. He was outstanding.
And if there's one thing that can keep this going, it's three more performances like that. I don't know how many times the Avalanche win with Andre Vasilevskiy playing at that exact-- at the exact level he was playing in game 4.
Darcy Kuemper, though, was solid. He actually made more saves, which, again, might be a counting thing with Tampa Bay because it looked like Andrei Vasilevskiy was the busier goaltender. He gave up a really awful goal, like the type of goal that would normally be very deflating and you don't come back from. It was scored by Victor Hedman, who basically just threw the weakest backhand on net that beat Darcy Kuemper.
And that was not the only bit of adversity that he overcame. In the first 36 seconds, under 40 seconds, Tampa Bay opened the scoring in the first period. And it came on a really bizarre play, something that I would be more angry about if I was Jared Bednar than Jon Cooper. But you know, I guess that doesn't matter now.
But again, I think this is something that should be revisited because Kuemper took a hard shot right off the chin. His mask explodes off his face. He almost tries to catch his mask while he's trying to catch the puck in front of him, because it hits him and drops down. He doesn't get a hold of either. The puck squirts away, and it's immediately slammed in by Anthony Cirelli.
And the rule is-- it was called correctly. The rule is that if the helmet comes off and a scoring chance is right there, it gets to continue on that scoring chance. So you can't just immediately blow it down because the mask is off. It has to be-- the play has to be settled, at least to a certain extent.
But how, if you're Darcy Kuemper, are you expected to make a save or recover when your helmet is literally popping off your face in that moment? How are you supposed to square up to a shooter or collect the rebound when that is happening to you in that moment? I do not know how that is fair at all to Darcy Kuemper.
But credit to him for bouncing back after allowing a goal like that, under those circumstances, 36 seconds into the game, and stopping, you know, maybe 30 saves after that? Or it must have been like 35 saves. I guess he made a few before that went in, including the one that hit him in the mask. But he was awesome from that point aside from that one moment on that Hedman goal. Even though it looks a little nervy with him still, he was tremendous in a bounceback effort after being pulled in game 3.
But they got to change that rule. I mean, it's ridiculous. Imagine if the puck landed in front of him or closer to him, someone whacks it, and it hits him in the face. Like, what are we doing here? A goaltender's mask comes off, immediately the play should be blown dead because it's about his safety first. And he clearly, despite the puck going in net and evading him, if it was still in a scoring area, he could still get in front of it and take a puck off the mouth. And then what are we talking about then?
I think they got to revisit that, among a few other things. Like in any Stanley Cup playoffs, a couple of rule changes probably seem-- seem like we got to revisit.
Other things of note-- as I mentioned, Hedman scored that goal. He was awesome. He was enterprising. He has not looked very good in the series up until this point. But he-- maybe after watching Cale Makar win the Norris the other night, looked like he was trying to match wits with Cale Makar.
He went on a ton of rushes. He scored that goal. I thought he was spectacular in this game. And it was good to see because it looked like he was maybe most symptomatic of the theory or the belief that the Lightning might be more banged up than the Avalanche because he just didn't look right in the first few games. Did look right in game 4. And hopefully we see him play well for as long as the series lasts.
Also, that top line-- I've talked about it before-- they are so good, Kucherov, Stamkos, and Palat, on three-on-threes, three-on-twos, those situations, it's almost like they always create a great scoring chance for themselves on plays that should be considered harmless.
I said that Leon Draisaitl, in the Western Conference Final, at a certain point, literally was making every correct read. Every pass he was making was the correct one. And I feel like these three guys, when they have a chance to break out the ice through the neutral zone, with possession, all together, with some speed, they consistently and unfailingly make the right play to create a scoring chance.
And really it's, like, the main driver of the Lightning offense. So it's something that the Avalanche could certainly look at, hope to clean up, because they are getting dissected on the rush and in transition by Kucherov, Stamkos, and Palat, even if it didn't result in a goal in game 4.
And then, finally-- I've been thinking about this the entire playoffs, it seems-- who does Nick Paul remind me of? I finally figured it out. It's Mark Stone. He's Mark Stone lite. And that take-away on Nathan MacKinnon, I think in the second period, which resulted in a big, big save from Darcy Kuemper, was the turning point in me trying to figure out who Nick Paul reminds me of.
And it's funny because both these players left Ottawa or were traded out of Ottawa and are now starring in other markets. And in the case of Nick Paul, Mathieu Joseph, at a fourth-round pick for a guy playing a massive role for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who do now have their backs up against the wall.
So come on, Ottawa. We probably need to get better returns on our Mark Stones and our players that can sometimes look like Mark Stone.
Anyway, that's game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Again, the Avalanche, 3-2 winners on Nazem Kadri's overtime goal. It looks like this run might be coming to an end for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who now have to go to Denver and get a win, then come back home and get a win, and then go back to Denver if they hope to repeat as Stanley Cup champions for a second time and become three-time Stanley Cup champions.
We will continue to break it down until the Stanley Cup Final is through, but this has been the "Yahoo Sports Hockey Podcast." And please do us a favor. Subscribe on YouTube and Apple and Spotify, anywhere you get this podcast or you watch this podcast. We would love your support, and we thank you for that.
Game 5 on Friday night in Denver. We could be giving out the Stanley Cup, and that's a beautiful, beautiful scene regardless of who wins. But if it's Friday, it's going to be the Colorado Avalanche.