Hardly a week has passed during the Stanley Cup playoffs without some incident proving out how overmatched officials and linesmen seem to be when it comes to making correct calls.
And it has gotten to the point now of providing the San Jose Sharks with a competitive advantage they may take all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Did you see the play Wednesday night in overtime of Game 3 of Western Conference finals between the Sharks and St. Louis Blues in St. Louis? The NHL wishes it hadn’t.
The Sharks, who sent the game into OT with a goal in the final minute of regulation, scored the game-winner at 5:23 of overtime as the direct result of a hand pass from Timo Meier, which kept an offensive flurry alive and set up Erik Karlsson’s winning goal.
The infraction was as plain as day and yet not one of the four officials – referees Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke and linesmen Jonny Murray and Matt MacPherson- admitted to seeing it.
“You know what? There’s a few calls you’re going to get. You’re not going to get certain ones. Everyone keeps talking about the hand pass, so there must have been something there, but at the end of the day, there are calls that go both ways. That’s the playoffs. There’s adversity. You gotta adjust, handle it, keep your cool,” San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said.
“If you get the extra call, great. Just keep playing. They’re not trying to screw anybody. They really aren’t. They’re good guys. May not always seem that way, but tonight, we may have caught a break. But there were a lot of breaks going both ways all night, all series.”
In their first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, an incorrect assessment of a five-minute major midway through the third period of Game 7, after a crosscheck on Pavelski in the face-off circle, paved the way for the Sharks to erase a 3-0 lead with four powerplay goals and eventually win the series in overtime.
The NHL was so guilt-ridden about that one they offered a public apology and essentially banned the offending referees from working any other postseason series.
What will the NHL have to say about this one?
The problem here was NHL video review does not provide a provision to evaluate hand passes. For that goal to be overruled, at least one of the officials would have to admit they actually saw the hand pass. In that case, the winning goal would have been erased and the Sharks would have understood why.
“I really didn’t get an explanation other than, I guess, there’s a different set of rules for two different teams, so I’m sure they’ll lose some sleep tonight after looking at it,” St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo said.
As you might expect, the Blues – and their home fans – did not react well to this miscarriage of justice. Some were frozen in silence on their bench, but others, like goalie Jordan Binnington, were pissed, slamming their sticks into the ice or the side boards when it became clear the goal would be allowed.
Here’s what happened: Meier was one the ice trying to control the puck. He eventually bounced it off a Blues player, into the air and then back off his own chest. At that point, he swatted at the puck with his right hand and moved it deeper into the slot area.
St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester tried to knock the puck down with his leg, but it glided over to San Jose’s Gustav Nyquist, who fed Karlsson, who beat goalie Binnington.
After huddling, the officials ruled goal and quickly left the ice, barraged by liter from incredulous fans who could tell from multiple replays that the officials had screwed their team. But no one was angrier that Blues general manager Doug Carpeneter.
Carpenter was screaming, banging his hand on the door of the officials dressing room.
“F—ing garbage,” he yelled. And he was right.
In the postgame press conference, Blues interim head coach Craig Berube asked the media what they thought of the call. He got the answer he was looking for.
“Then don’t ask me,” he said. “There’s no reason to ask me. I’ve got nothing to say about it.”
Meanwhile, Karlsson was being wiseass in the visitor’s dressing room.
“We weren’t playing handball, were we?” he said. “We were playing hockey. We deserved to win this game. At the end of the day, I don’t think either team drew the shorter stick on any of the calls. Fair game.”
Like it did after the Sharks-Golden Knight fiasco, the league issued a statement that did nothing but avoid the issue: “Plays of this nature are not reviewable. A hand pass that goes into the net can be reviewed, but a hand pass between teammates cannot be reviewed.”
Former NHL goalie Kay Whitmore, the supervising the officials for the series, was asked if any of the officials told him they’d seen the hand pass.
“What [did they tell] me? It’s a non-reviewable play. You can read between the lines. You can figure out what you want. You watched the video. But it’s just non-reviewable. I know that sounds like a cop-out answer, but that’s the truth,” Whitmore said.
“The way the rules are written, any chance there is to review, everything is reviewed that’s reviewable. But as the rules currently stand, the play is non-reviewable.”
It’s seems clear the NHL will have to reconsider its replay rules, just like the NFL did in the wake of the missed pass interference calls that essentially cost the New Orleans Saints their shot at the Super Bowl.
“That’s for [commissioner] Gary Bettman and GMs,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “That’s not for Pete DeBoer. I’m a coach. You want to ask me about the game?”
Unlike the Golden Knights, who were immediately eliminated, the Blues have a chance to recover and that was the theme in their locker room
“It’s difficult to lose in overtime, the playoffs, anytime. You’ve got to move on. The team’s got to move on. We’ve all got to move on from it and get ready for Game 4. Really, that’s all you can do,” Berube said. “We played a solid hockey game, but we were on the losing side of it. And there’s nothing we can do about what happened. We’ve just got to move on.”