For the second time in the last month, an issue of a goaltender interference call (or no call) has cost the Tampa Bay Lightning club momentum in a home game, and, ultimately, two valuable points in the standings.
Last night in Tampa, captain Vincent Lecavalier drove hard to the slot, picked up a loose puck and promptly deposited it into the top corner of the net with Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby down and out. The goal would have given the Lightning a 2-0 lead at home with the momentum and crowd behind them, which most likely would have been enough for two points in regulation as Alexander Semin managed the only goal past veteran net minder Dwayne Roloson with five minutes remaining in the tilt.
Had the goal been allowed to stand, Tampa Bay would most likely be atop the Southeast Division today.
But as it was called on the ice, Washington took the all-important two points and the division lead, putting the Capitals in a position for home ice in the playoffs and the Lightning slipping further and further down the Eastern Conference standings.
On the play in question, Tampa Bay winger Martin St. Louis was tripped by the stick of Washington's Brooks Laich. St. Louis then fell forward into Braden Holtby's crease due to his momentum where he brushed against the goaltender's pads despite visible efforts not to touch him. Replays show more significant contact between Laich's stick and Holtby's pads that allowed Lecavalier to beat the young goalie.
But Lightning fans were disappointed as the goal was immediately and enthusiastically disallowed without any further review and with Lightning players and coaching staff unable to do anything about it except head back to center ice and try again.
On an eerily similar play February 8 against the Buffalo Sabres, another home game for the Tampa Bay Lightning, incidental contact between defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron and Buffalo forward Drew Stafford sent Stafford sprawling forward. His skate caught the back of Dwayne Roloson's skate and Roloson tumbled onto his back as the puck was easily put into the net.
On this play, the referee ruled that the contact between Stafford and Roloson was caused by Bergeron, so there was no interference call and the goal was allowed to stand. So how is the play from last night any different?
More importantly, how is it that goaltender interference—a call most often associated with a "goal or no goal" decision, is not reviewable?
It has become abundantly clear to this writer that the National Hockey League quickly needs to incorporate either a more inclusive reviewing system on contested goals or allow head coaches to challenge calls on the ice, forcing the replay officials in Toronto to send down a decision after looking at the play.
Every other major sport has this sort of review and the National Football League in particular has experienced success with their system of coach's challenges. Fans want their team to be able to force officials to rethink a bad call or make sure they make the right call during a critical moment.
To make sure the challenge isn't misused, allow only one per game and penalize a team whose challenge does not succeed by charging them their one and only team time out.
It's a simple fix that could, and should, be instituted as soon as possible, in the interest of fairness in competition.
And because I'm a disgruntled Lightning fan.