By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — While you may have been sleeping on Tuesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights were running away with a Game 7 victory over the Sharks in San Jose.
With goals from William Karlsson, Cody Eakin and Max Pacioretty, the Knights were well on their way to dispatching the home team and advancing to the second round of the playoffs. Nearing the midway point of the third period, the fat lady was warming up her vocal chords.
Alas, it was at that point that sports happened. And the sports? They were not kind to the Golden Knights.
After a faceoff in Vegas’ end of the ice, Cody Eakin cross-checked Sharks captain Joe Pavelski off the dot. In terms of hockey plays, it was fairly routine — and it didn’t inspire either referee on the ice to raise an arm to signal a penalty. Even in a three-goal game, referees Eric Furlatt and Dan O’Halloran opted to not call a penalty for the cross-check on the ice. Presumably, it wasn’t significant contact, even in a three-goal game.
But what happened after that was not routine. Pavelski ended up bouncing off the cross-check into Paul Stastny, who essentially drove through Pavelski in order to get out to the point to disrupt a potential Brent Burns shot. It wasn’t a particularly violent or malicious collision, but more a case of one body being in the way of another body that’s trying to get somewhere.
Unfortunately for Pavelski, the collision led to him slamming his helmet on the ice. He remained there motionless for five full seconds before a linesman skated in, assessed the situation, and stopped play to signal for trainers to step onto the ice to help Pavelski, who was bleeding out of his helmet.
The result of the collision was bad. But to that point, nothing particularly illegal had been observed by the refs. Yet as trainers and teammates tended to a bleeding-from-the-head Pavelski, the broadcast showed the Vegas penalty box, where Eakin had suddenly appeared.
To make matters worse for Vegas, Eakin had been slapped with a five-minute major penalty. That tends to be the case when an illegal hit leads to injury … but again, the refs on the ice did not initially call a penalty for cross-checking. They didn’t call a penalty for anything.
When pressed for a statement after the game, the NHL’s explanation left much to be desired. The league said: “The referees called a cross-checking penalty for an infraction that caused a significant injury. In their judgment, the infraction and its result merited a major penalty.”
Conspicuously missing from that statement is the fact that the referees’ judgment did not include a penalty call at all until the injury took place.
Worse yet, during his postgame press conference, Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant said that the referee told him the penalty was called because by the referee’s estimation, Eakin had cross-checked Pavelski in the head.
If Eakin had done that, then perhaps the refs would have seen it. Alas, he did not.
This is all important because, as you likely know, the Sharks took full advantage of that five-minute major power play — and then some.
Lougan Couture scored seven seconds after play resumed. 3-1 Knights.
Tomas Hertl scored 49 seconds later. 3-2 Knights.
Couture scored again, on the same power play, 3:33 into the man advantage. Tie game.
And then to really make it sting, Kevin Labanc scored to give the Sharks a 4-3 lead with 6:39 left in Game 7.
There is taking advantage of a call and seizing momentum, and then there is doing what the Sharks did. That was historic.
The Knights did show some resolve after that, with Jonathan Marchessault netting the game-tying goal with less than a minute left in regulation to force overtime. Alas, in the final minutes of the overtime period, Barclay Goodrow scored for the home team.
The Sharks moved on, becoming the second team ever to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7. (Hello, 2013 Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.)
The Knights’ season was over.
As you might imagine, the Knights were none too pleased with the way things transpired. And Marchessault pulled no punches in his assessment of the work of the referees.
Here’s everything Marchessault had to say in the losing locker room, per ESPN’s Greg Wyhsynski. The emphasis is added by me:
“I really hope Joe Pavelski is OK. You never want to see something bad like that happen. But it’s a f—— joke. To call five minutes for that? Why don’t you have a hockey replay or something? It changed the whole outcome of the game. Like, seriously, what is that? It’s so disappointing. The game’s not even close. It’s 3-0. Call a [two-minute minor]? OK. But a five? For something you don’t even see? You just call the outcome. It’s a f—— joke. It’s embarrassing. That’s what it is.”
“Furlatt said, ‘It looks pretty bad.’ If it looks pretty bad, then clearly you did not see it. It’s a faceoff. It’s a push. Probably 50 percent of the faceoffs, players — if they lose — they probably give a small cross-check, right? If you want to call the cross-check, fine, call it. It’s a cross-check. But seriously, he falls bad. It’s unfortunate. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of Joe Pavelski. And he went down, and I really hope he’s OK and he comes back. But that call changes the whole outcome. It changes the whole future of us and the outcome this year. It’s a joke. I would be embarrassed if I was them.”
“Yeah, [the referees] guess. So exactly, why don’t you just have a video replay? It helps them. It’s a fast game for everybody out there. It’s a fast game. It’s embarrassing.”
“If it was stolen? Yeah. It was 3-0, with 10 or 13 minutes left. They scored four goals on the power play. They came clutch. They feed off the bad call, they come back, 4-3, and get the big goal in overtime. You have to give them credit at some point. They’re a great hockey team. But it’s embarrassing.”
“It’s the same thing as with the football team. The Saints. It changes the whole outcome. Obviously human error exists, but it’s a fast game for everyone. Everyone could use a little extra help. They called a bad call, and look where we are. Summer starts, and it’s f—— five months now until game one of the regular season starts. It’s awful. You think we were ready to get our summer going here? We’re a great team. It’s unbelievable.”
Clearly, Marchessault was speaking from a very emotional place. But he also made some points that were more than fair. The referees were clearly guessing, and they likely could have benefited from having some video replay available to them, because realistically, two men in stripes can’t see everything that goes on during a playoff hockey game.
So yes, the Golden Knights absolutely got burned by a raw deal and some bad officiating at a critical moment of the season.
But — BUT! — let’s not get carried away. The call was bad. The resulting five-minute power play made life difficult. But allowing not one, not two, not three but four goals on that power play? That’s almost as difficult as scoring four goals on the same power play.
And we need not compare this officiating to what took place in the Saints-Rams NFC Championship Game. If the officials in that game did their job properly, then the Saints would have had a 99 percent chance of going to the Super Bowl. If the officials in this game did their jobs better, then the Knights would have had a very good chance — call it, 80 percent — of reaching the second round of the postseason.
The Saints also didn’t give up three touchdowns after being on the wrong end of bad officiating. They tied the game and lost in overtime. (The Saints also didn’t hold the equivalent of a 3-1 series lead, only to let it slip away; the Knights most certainly did.)
So on the grand scale of getting jobbed by bad officiating, the Golden Knights don’t quite rise to the level of the Saints.
As Marchessault said himself, “You have to give [the Sharks] credit at some point.” One bad penalty call in a 3-0 game with 10:47 left to play does not change the entire outcome of a game. Had Vegas merely leaned on its penalty kill, which was mediocre during the regular season, to perform even decently, then the outcome would not have changed. The Knights would be moving on.
Instead, they allowed that bad call to absolutely sink them. While it’d be easy to blame the referees for what took place, it was ultimately the successive failures of the Knights in the minutes that followed that led to the abrupt ending to their season.