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Coaches Argue Over Whether Lightning Are Manipulating Officials

Jon Cooper and Sheldon Keefe are arguing over whether the Lightning are getting away with manipulating the officials.

Sheldon Keefe says the Tampa Bay Lightning are manipulating the officials. Jon Cooper says there would be no reason to do so based on the way a series of physical incidences went down that would have seen his team on a power play. Who is right? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective and who you cheer for.

Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning squared off (in more ways than one) in Game 3 of their first-round series and things got a bit feisty. After a Nikita Kucherov skated a good 10 feet to crosscheck Morgan Rielly after Brayden Point was run into the boards and seemingly injured, the Lightning decided to really ramp things up and Steven Stamkos picked a fight with Auston Matthews. What’s got Leafs’ fans so irked is that Stamkos was literally engaging the Matthews while he was trying to pick up hockey sticks that were spread out all over the ice.

Brandon Hagel of the Lightning said after the game, that the team’s top scorers showed a willingness to stick up for a teammate in Brayden Point.. “That’s why this team has been so successful.” Sheldon Keefe didn’t see it that way.

After the game, Keefe said, “It’s a classic example of a veteran championship team like Tampa Bay manipulating the officials and taking advantage of a situation.” He noted that the Lightning knew Toronto was getting a power play because of the Kucherov situation. That’s when their veterans kicked into gear and started picking fights with the Maple Leafs players. Keefe claimed these vets were savvy enough to know the refs wouldn’t be giving out another penalty, so they drew the Leafs guys in. He believed that the Leafs should have had a 5-3 power play, not get away with taking Ryan O’Reilly and Matthews to the box with them. He noted, “Brilliant play by the Lightning there.”

Cooper Has His Own View of the Melee

Cooper responded and said Keefe’s logic doesn’t make sense and that it was the Lightning who were likely to get a power play. He explained, “But I would say this: When that hit happened, I think everybody watching at home and everybody in the building, including us, thought we were going on the power play.” He then asked, with that in mind, why would their best power play guys in Stamkos and Kucherov willingly put themselves in the box when it could have meant the game to be out on the ice and possibly score? To Keefe’s claims of Tampa manipulating the refs, “I’m not sure what that means,” he said. He added, “That actually worked against us.”

Is this just gamesmanship by both coaches? Or, does Keefe actually believe what a lot of fans do, that the officiating in the NHL playoffs thus far has been a total disaster? Every game has one side a bit unhappier than the other with the refs, but in the first round so far, there have been an exceedingly number of games where refs have made questionable calls and the outcomes of games have been decided because of these calls.

Keefe might be doing his best to get the referees to question themselves and perhaps pit them against the Lightning. If even one official believes Tampa might be trying to pull strings, his comments will have been worth it. Meanwhile, Cooper is trying to suggest the refs are too smart to fall for this. Also a sound strategy.

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