Once again, a fantastic playoff game was shadowed by incompetence.
Last night in St. Louis, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Blues 5-4 in Game 3, to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals. This game saw the Blues erase a 3-1 deficit, with 3 goals in the last 15 minutes of the second period, and Logan Couture tie the game with 1:01 left in the final frame. All the drama in regulation came to ahead when Erik Karlsson scored his second goal of the night at 5:23 (elapsed time) in OT. His goal, however, came with a dose of controversy.
Timo Meier broke the puck into the offensive zone and tried to force a shot on Blues goalie, Jordan Binnington, around the hash marks. Meier’s shot was blocked and the puck popped up to about knee height. As Meier fell to his knees, he batted the puck towards teammate Gustav Nyquist. Nyquist then dished the puck to Karlsson, who scored five-hole on Binnington. The Blues disputed with the on-ice officials about Meier’s hand-pass, but after a brief discussion, the referee’s pointed to center ice: good goal San Jose Sharks.
All of that furthers the debate, “Does the NHL have a replay problem?” The NHL’s replay controversy began with the introduction of the Coach’s Challenge. In a sport that moves as fast as hockey, the Coach’s Challenge was a logical addition to the NHL. However, this perk has brought out grey areas within the NHL rule book, most notably Goaltender Interference.
It seems every year, the NHL Front Office has dealt with plays like Meier’s hand pass and Artemi Panarin’s goal in Game 4 against Boston. They are not reviewable plays and the calls made on the ice are final unless ANY of the officials see otherwise. Nobody knows why the current rulebook forbids “hand-passes” and “puck-out-of-play” to be challenged. The NHL may want to keep those plays non-reviewable from a Coach’s Challenge standpoint, most likely to avoid the game being slowed down. But allowing everything in the game to be looked at, has tampered with the flow of a hockey game.
I went to Bruins-Leafs Game 5; a game that was not the best quality hockey but lots of drama and pressure. Auston Matthews scored midway through the 3rd period, but the Bruins challenged that Zach Hyman interfered with Tuukka Rask. I’m not kidding you, the review took 4 minutes to figure out whether a skater bumped a goalie trying to make a save. I get that the refs want to get everything right, but please, stop over thinking plays that are challenged. The amount of time referees take to review an offside or goalie interference is comparable to the NFL. The officiating in the Stanley Cup Finals needs to be absolutely SPOTLESS for the growing officiating problem to not be front and center.
The moaning about officiating this postseason has taken place in other cities too. All 16 fanbases who qualified for the playoffs can point at a significant missed call that affected the outcome of a game. Some of these significant plays are reviewable, some are not. Vegas and Columbus fans will argue for penalties to be reviewed, while Bruins and Blues fan will protest for hand-passes and “puck over glass” to be reviewed.
These fanbases have good reason to be upset. If the NHL caves in and makes penalties, hand-passes and puck over glass all reviewable, a lot of hardcore fans, including myself, would not be happy. The clear advantage about hockey over the 4 major U.S. sports, is total playing time (barring a double or triple overtime marathon in the playoffs), so allowing for a basic hooking penalty to be reviewed could create pace of play problems for the NHL.
Photo: Washington Post