The San Jose Sharks were the benefactor of an officiating mistake once again in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup, taking Game 3 on a non-called hand pass.
Immediately following Erik Karlsson’s overtime goal at 5 minutes and 23 seconds of the first overtime that propelled the San Jose Sharks to a 5-4 victory, the St. Louis Blues were arguing the non-call.
In a wild sequence deep into Blues territory, Timo Meier appeared to bat down the puck to linemate Gustav Nyquist, who quickly pushed it to Karlsson to seal Game 3 and give the visitors a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals.
“It was a game of momentum swings, and those quick little plays happen all over the ice,” DeBoer said in the post-game press conference. “Some of them get called, some get missed. We found a way to win.”
A way to win at the hand of controversial calls and non-calls has been a common theme for the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs.
It wasn’t the first time the San Jose Sharks have been at the forefront of questionable officiating, digging a deeper hole for refs in the National Hockey League in the public’s eye during the most important time of the season.
In the first-round Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose trailed 3-0 in the third period when a five-minute major got assessed against Cody Eakin for a cross-check on Sharks captain Joe Pavelski.
The officials made a call without really seeing the play, but rather constructed a judgement based on the aftermath of the blood from the captain’s severe head injury.
As a result, the Sharks awoke with a vengeance, scoring four consecutive power-play goals and the eventual game-winner in overtime.
Another Game 7 in the second round against the Colorado Avalanche brought more controversy and a critical momentum shift.
Early in the second period, Nathan Mackinnon and Colin Wilson capitalized on a 2-on-1 rush for the apparent game-tying goal.
However, after further review, the goal got waved off after replay had shown that Gabriel Landeskog did not completely execute his line change at the gate to the bench on the blue line.
It was a costly moment of inches, and it went in favor of the Sharks, who maintained a one-goal lead and then extended it a few shifts later on Joonas Donskoi’s first of the playoffs.
Now, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the officials missed the hand pass by Meier that set up the Erik Karlsson’s second goal of the night.
It was a clear missed call by referees Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke and linesmen. According to NHL Rule 67.1, “A player shall be permitted to stop or ‘bat’ a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the Referee, he has deliberately directed the puck to a teammate in any zone other than the defending zone, in which case the play shall be stopped and a face-off conducted.”
While the goal was reviewable, the hand pass was not – a situation that the NHL war room in Toronto that could not right the definitive wrong. All signs point to that very moment creating rule changes for next season, but in the moment itself, the irreversible call delivered a devastating blow to the Blues and their fanbase.
The officiating was inconsistent throughout the evening at Enterprise Center.
Late in the second period, officials missed what video replays apparently presented David Perron flipping the puck into the stands for what should have been a delay of game penalty.
Joe Thornton was the closest player to the incident and saw the puck fly straight out, but there was no available coach’s challenge for that play and there’s no mechanism for Toronto to help make that call correctly either.
Instead, the Blues utilized that sequence as a surge of momentum to take a 4-3 lead with a pair of snipes from Perron.
Some questionable hits, including a high blow by Sammy Blais on Justin Braun right in front of the official also stirred the debate of a penalty.
With that being said, the San Jose Sharks have been lucky with the most critical calls going their way in the postseason. However, that doesn’t take away their gutsy effort to not give up as they’ve had done all year – battling from behind 3-1 in the Vegas series.
In the third period, San Jose’s chemistry collapsed. Passes were not tape-to-tape and shots whistled wildly over Jordan Binnington during their scrambled rushes. The only Shark who gave an encouraging sign of hope was Martin Jones, who after a shaky second period, robbed the Blues point-blank on several occasions to keep San Jose in the contest.
Jones’ resiliency paid off and Logan Couture scored the tying goal, his league-leading 14th goal of the playoffs with the extra attacker, and the Sharks went on to win with the controversial goal.
The Blues did not deserve to lose that game in that fashion. Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and teams have to fight through the adversity. It’s a long, hard-fought battle, and adjustments will be made, not just by the players, but by the officials as well.
“There’s a few calls you’re going to get, you’re not going to get certain ones,” Pavelski said.
“Everyone keeps talking about the hand pass, so there must have been something there. But there are calls that go both ways. That’s the playoffs. There’s adversity, you gotta adjust, handle it, keep your cool.”
Calls have been the epicenter of momentum shifts, and the officiating will be judged critically as the playoffs linger on. All eyes will be peeled on the men in stripes as the Sharks and Blues lock horns in Game 4 Friday night.