The celebration began at the 1:40 mark of overtime. It appeared that Lightning defenseman Andrej Meszaros had just won the game on a shot from the point. The Lightning players mobbed the ice congratulating their player on a job well done.
Then the Zebra said no. Referee Frederick L'Ecuye ruled that Tampa Bay forward Paul Szczechura interfered with Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and disallowed the game-winning overtime goal.
Strangely, Szczechura wasn't issued a penalty for goalie interference as the contact was deemed incidental.
So, he interfered with goalie enough to eliminate the game-winning goal but not really enough to draw a penalty. Riiiiight.
"A terrible call," Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki told the St. Petersburg Times , "We won that game. I don't know what happened. It's a terrible feeling. It's nothing to do with you or your team-mates. It's something you can't control. We're all human. We all make mistakes."
Szczechura had made obvious contact with Quick, but was driven into the goaltender by a Kings defenseman.
Rule 69.1—interference with a goaltender—states if an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.
Szczechura appeared to have no chance to avoid Quick during the scrum inside the crease.
"I was going to the net to try and get into the goalie's eyes there with a screen," Szczechura said. "I got pushed in there. I'm going to try to avoid (Quick) at all costs if I can, but obviously I couldn't get out of the way. It's a tough break for us."
Szczechura also believed the contact occurred after the puck was past Quick.
"That was another reason I thought it should have been called a goal," he told the Tampa Tribune .
"In the eyes of the referee, the goaltender was clearly interfered with by the attacking player," NHL referee supervisor Don Koharski said.
The play was not reviewable.
"It's a tough one," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "We thought it was a goal. Obviously, the ref pointed, but then he said it was incidental contact. That's how it was explained to me.
"There's nothing you can do. It happens all the time, where a goal is called back. You've still got to be able to focus."
The Lightning still had an opportunity to win it in a shoot out but were stoned on all three attempts while the Kings' Anze Kopitar slipped a goal past Niittymaki to secure the win for the Kings.
The result wasted another tremendous effort by Niittymaki, who made 29 saves on 30 shots and spectacular the entire game.
Quick was equal to the task on the other side as well, earning the first star with his 28 saves and three shoot out stops.
Kings Coach Terry Murray apparently needed his eyes checked.
"I can't give you an impartial opinion, but when I look at it, in my experience it was the correct call," Murray said. "O'Donnell (the Kings defenseman) did not cross-check him (Szczechura); he did not push him. There has to be an attempt by the player to stop… It's the correct call, in my view of it."
Sometimes, one point can decide whether a team earns a trip to the playoffs or stays home.
For the Lightning, it was just another bitter result in an overtime game that will leave the team searching for what could have been at the end of this season.