Bolts can blame bad call, or blame themselves

by Gary Shelton on June 24, 2022

in general

Friday, 4 a.m.

Today, outrage has replaced out play.

Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning is not just beaten. They are cheated.

And so the howls continue over the final goal of the Avs' 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Avs had too many men on the ice (and not enough referees to call it), and the Bolts lost, and nothing else seems to matter.

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As they say in sports, it is preferable to blame the officials than to blame one's self. Some of that is going on here. And some is justifiable outrage. And some of it is focusing on the wrong thing.

Look, bully for the Lightning and their last three seasons. That cannot be said enough. But the Avs have been the far better team in these finals. They were better in overtime on Wednesday night. Don't lose sight of that.

But, yeah, Colorado broke a rule. That goal, in that moment, should have been disallowed. Granted, the Avs probably would have won anyway. They were dominating play. But there is a reason for rules. Granted, it happened a long way away from the play, but for that matter, so does offsides, and that gets called when it's a matter of inches.

By focusing on the too-many-men penalty, however, the Lightning is able to let go of its other deficiencies. No one is talking about how badly the special teams have been outplayed. No one is talking about not building a bigger advantage in a first-period that was dominated by Tampa Bay. No one is wondering how badly Nikita Kucherov was hurt.

Just too many men.

Again, I get it. Fans love to rally behind a missed call. Ire replaces embarrassment, and anger replaces disappointment. Nothing unifies a fanbase quite like the collective feeling of being let down by the judges of the game. It turns a loser into a victim, and a defeat into something unjust.

Suddenly, the Lighting have their on Don Denkinger call (he called a Kansas City runner safe when he was out), or its own Eric Gregg (with the make-believe strike zone) or Phil Luckett not knowing the difference between heads or tails on a coin flip.

Sports history is filled with botched calls. I once did a piece in which I talked to every member of the '72 Olympic basketball team, and years later, most of them were angry. I was there when Bert Emanual made the same kind of catch that took Cris Carter to the Hall of Fame. I saw Ken Hrbek lift Ron Gant off of first base. There are others -- Jeffrey Maier and Brett hull and Maradona.

Replay, and added officials, were supposed to eliminate most of the controversy. But not always. Sometimes, an official is asleep at the switch.

Personally, I think the officials missed on Wednesday night. But if they hadn't, I believe Colorado still would have won. Tough as it is to admit that, they were better.

Now the Lightning has to play better. And the refs? They have to be better, too.

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