EDMONTON, AB — Referees determining the outcomes of games: a tradition unlike any other.
Listen, I'm not one to constantly lament bad calls and missed calls because they tend to even out over time.
But in overtime -- of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final -- the referees need to be on their game as much as the players they're skating up and down the ice with.
That was not the case Friday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning clipped the Dallas Stars in overtime, 5-4, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Five minutes into overtime, Stars captain Jamie Benn was called for tripping Lightning forward Tyler Johnson.
One watch of the replay and it's obvious Benn's skate never touched Johnson.
"Jamie [Benn] breathes on [Johnson] and the guy falls over," Stars veteran forward Joe Pavelski told reporters after the game. "Playoffs. It's overtime. We expect 5-on-5. We expect to battle it out.
Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness called the penalty "a hockey play."
"I saw two guys going for a loose puck," Bowness said. "That's what I saw."
It was the wrong call. It was a needless call. It dictated the outcome of the game.
One minute later, Lightning veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk got the puck and ripped it far-side on Stars goalie Anton Khudobin for the game-winning goal.
It was Tampa's third power play goal of the game and their sixth PP goal of the series.
A devastating, excruciating loss for the Stars, who led 2-0 and 3-1 at different points in the game.
Again, I'm not a "ref-hater." Their job is extremely difficult and they're in a no-win situation.
After a game with no controversial calls, no one tweets, "Great game, refs! Well called game! Thank you for your work!"
No, people are too busy celebrating or being upset to give a hoot about the folks in stripes.
And as much as I despise replay reviews prolonging games (especially the NHL's uber-strict offsides rule), this would be a circumstance when taking another look would not only maintain the integrity of the game... it would not put one team unfairly at a disadvantage.
But, that's a rant-column for another night.
The refs get the benefit of the doubt. They're humans, not robots.
But, this was Game 4 of THE STANLEY CUP FINAL. There is little room for error when you're handing out championships.
Furthermore, if this was Game 1, the Stars and their fans would be slightly less upset because "it's just one game."
But, this game gave Tampa a 3-1 series lead and if you poll Stars fans now, I bet most would say this series is pretty much over.
That's not an indictment of the Stars. It's just the truth about the improbability of coming back against the top offensive team in the NHL for 2019-2020.
Sure, the Stars are "comeback kids" of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but to come back from 3-1 to this Lightning team... that's an order taller than Shawn Bradley standing on Dirk Nowitzki's shoulders.
Stars penalties have become an unfortunate storyline of the Stanley Cup Final. Some are dumb penalties. Some are aforementioned bad calls.
Regardless, the Lightning are about the last team you want to face playing with a one-man advantage.
Tampa cashed in three power play goals on Friday night, including Shattenkirk's game-winner.
Brayden Point scored the first Tampa power play goal of Game 4, which tied the game at 2-2. It was Point's second goal of the game and NHL-best 13th goal of the playoffs.
Yanni Gourde scored the second Tampa power play goal, which tied the game at 3-3 late in the 2nd Period.
Nikita Kucherov assisted on both, which raised his playoff-leading point total to 32 -- a Lightning franchise record.
Kucherov's 32 points are now tied for 19th for most in a single playoffs and tied for second-most in a playoffs since 1996.
Kucherov still has *at least* one more game to pad his numbers and further climb the history books.
The Stars best player on Friday night was Joe Pavelski.
Pavelski scored a pair of goals - giving him a dozen goals in the 2020 Cup Playoffs.
"Captain America" is now tied with Jim Mullen for most playoff goals all-time by a U.S.-born player with 60.
Would this be a good time to remind you he's signed with the Stars until 2022? He signed a three-year contract in the 2019 offseason and it's paid off in the most important time of the hockey season.
Honorable mention: Stars forward Tyler Seguin. The snakebitten star totaled a couple assists and looked invigorated, despite the loss.
On the injury front, Stars forward Roope Hintz drilled exited the game after sliding into the boards with his right side of the body. He did not return. The Finnish phenom has 13 points in the playoffs including two assists in the Cup Final.
The Stars must now win three straight games to avoid elimination and win the Stanley Cup. One loss and their season is over.
Game 5 starts Saturday night at 7 p.m. CT.