On April 16, the Golden Knights held a 3-1 series lead over San Jose. Everyone was making plans for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Whether it was how you were going to pay for your playoff tickets, where you would attend a watch party or merely rearrange your schedule to watch or listen, you had every reason to believe your team was going to be playing hockey in May.
Problem was, no one bothered to tell the Sharks.
And while it will be part of the team’s and the NHL’s history that the third-period call on Cody Eakin which resulted in a five-minute major penalty that led to the Sharks scoring four times and ultimately eliminating the Knights 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night at SAP Center, the fact remains the Knights failed to seal the deal.
They got outplayed in Game 5. They failed to capitalize on numerous Grade-A chances in Game 6. They had a 3-0 lead in Game 7 with just under 11 minutes to play.
You want to blame the referees? I’m not going to dissuade you. The call wasn’t only egregious, it was on the wrong player. Yes, Eakin cross-checked Joe Pavelski. But it was Paul Stastny who hit Pavelski and caused him to fall to the ice. If anyone deserved to be sent off, it was No. 26.
Obviously the decision to assess a major rather than a two-minute penalty had a tremendous impact on the game. In addition to having played well Tuesday and scoring the second Vegas goal, Eakin was one of the Knights’ top penalty killers and with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare not even playing, that’s the team’s top two front-line killers missing.
Yet the Knights still had enough quality people on the ice to kill off the penalty. Reilly Smith, Tomas Nosek, Will Karlsson, Mark Stone, Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb — all took regular turns killing penalties this season and had been effective doing so.
The penalty kill essentially evaporated as the Sharks took full advantage of their man advantage to take the lead.
You still give up four goals on a power play, that’s just too many. Whether or not it’s a penalty or not, you still can’t do that. -Nate Schmidt
To the Knights’ credit, they found a way to respond with Jonathan Marchessault tying the game with 47 seconds left in regulation and forcing OT.
That said, the Sharks deserve credit for their resiliency, going back to Game 5. They never gave up and whether or not they deserve to advance against Colorado can be debated given the call. But no one can question San Jose’s resolve.
It was a hell of a series, one that will be memorable for numerous reasons.
There was the early stellar play of Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Stone where they dominated the first four games. There was the redemption of San Jose goalie Martin Jones who was yanked twice in the first four games and played well, if not exceptional at times, to help his team get to Game 7. There was the drama of a two-OT Game 6 and finally, the insanity that was Game 7.
This will be of little solace to the Golden Knights, but I’m guessing the call on Eakin will likely result in a change in the rules where the referees can review the play and assess the proper penalty.
NHL game supervisor Don vanMassenhoven explained the call by his officials:
The referees called a crosschecking penalty for an infraction that caused a significant injury. In their judgment, the infraction and its result merited a major penalty. -vanMassenhoven
Referees are paid to use their judgement. They also should be able to use technology when applicable. In this case, where neither Eric Furlatt or Dan O’Halloran could unequivocally say they saw an actual infraction committed that warranted a major penalty, the need to go to replay and be able to ascertain what actually happened and make the proper assessment is a fail on the NHL’s part.
I’ll bet general manager George McPhee will call for a change in policy for this kind of situation. And he shouldn’t be alone, because it could happen to some other team. I’m sure he’ll be asked about it when the team has its exit interviews and he meets with the media today.
For coach Gerard Gallant, this was a tough pill to swallow.
It was an awful call. You all saw it. It was a major factor in the hockey game. It’s a shame what happened. We should be playing the next game. -Gallant
Gallant talked about intent and when you watch the replay, there didn’t appear to be intent on either Eakin’s or Stastny’s part to injure Pavelski. He lost his balance after making contact with Stastny and fell, hitting his head on the ice. He certainly didn’t appear to have suffered any injury after he and Eakin mixed it up. That kind of contact takes place numerous times in every game between centers after faceoffs.
And that’s another area the NHL needs to clarify when making these kinds of calls. Was there intent to deliberately injure the player? Again, watching a replay can help bring that question into sharper focus.
What transpired Tuesday will be an unfortunate part of the Golden Knights legacy. Years from now, when people read about this team’s history, the events of the third period will be chronicled and no doubt debated.
The team will do its exit interviews today and perhaps we’ll get more insight as to how the collapse from a 3-1 series lead manifested itself. But for the next few months, the operative word is “Pain.” Players. Coaches. Fans. Everyone associated with the Golden Knights is hurting and that’s not going to change any time soon.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**