Before Game 6 of the series between Detroit and Tampa Bay, Lightning coach Jon Cooper called out the Red Wings for their employment of interference. His frustration didn’t comes from the use of the tactic and there’s little doubt he wants to see the referees do something about it.
"There are 30 teams in the league and nobody does (interference) more than the Detroit Red Wings, hands down," Cooper told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times. "The old saying is, 'If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying.' They do it to a 'T'.
"My message to our guys is you've got to suck it up, got to fight through it. And if they're bringing it, you've got to bring a gun to a knife fight. That's how it has to go. So to get on them, we have to be better."
And so, like that, Cooper tried to swing the momentum by putting the onus on the referees to make the necessary calls when the Red Wings were clutching and grabbing. Much to Cooper’s chagrin, however, Game 6 went much differently than one may have expected.
In total, the Lightning – not the Red Wings, who Cooper had accused – were whistled for 11 minor penalties while Detroit was hit with only six infractions on the night. Of the penalties called on the Red Wings, not a single one was for interference. Thankfully for Cooper and the Lightning, however, his team skated to a 5-2 victory to force Game 7 in Tampa Bay.
The thing is, though, Cooper’s team has often gotten an advantage because of Detroit’s supposed penchant for slowing up players. In the first-round series between Detroit and Tampa Bay, the Red Wings have also taken six minors for interference, two more than any other team this post-season. The Lightning have failed to score on any of those six power plays. So if the Red Wings are getting away with holding up Lightning players on a regular basis, it’s certainly not showing up on the score sheet.
Some would argue the Red Wings getting slapped with more interference calls than any team is indicative of a club that utilizes obstruction as part of their strategy, but it would be difficult to find a coach in the league who would willingly risk being shorthanded with any consistency. And if Cooper’s argument is that Detroit gets away with it more than any team, numbers say otherwise.
During the regular season, only two teams were called for interference more than 35 times, with the Red Wings far ahead of the rest of the league. In total, Detroit was hit with 49 interference minors and the Columbus Blue Jackets were the second most penalized team for impeding the opposition, being sent off 42 times.
ESPN’s penalty data goes back to the 2008-09 campaign. From 2009-10 to 2014-15, the Red Wings were in the top five in minor penalties for interference. In 2009-10, they were called 44 times (tied for third), 42 in 2010-11 (third), 48 in 2011-12 (second) and led the league in 2012-13, 2013-14 and this season with totals of 37, 45 and 49.
While there are no stats to track how many uncalled instances of interference there may have been – and the referees in the stands would say you could call it on nearly every play – it’s difficult to imagine Detroit really gets away with much more than any other team. Interference is interference and if the referees deem it such, it’s being called.
But if Cooper used calling out the Red Wings as a play, a way to fire up his troops, it worked. Heading into Game 7, the Lightning have a lot of momentum having taken it to Detroit in the previous game.
If Tampa Bay emerges from Game 7 victorious, they’ll have a date with the Montreal Canadiens in round two. For Cooper, that might be the same nightmare all over again, though. Over the past six seasons, the team with the second-most top five finishes in interference minors? You guessed it: the Canadiens.