First, let’s be clear: The officials did not cost the Vegas Golden Knights the game and the series last night in San Jose. We will explain why below. However, that does not mean the National Hockey League is not deserving of the continuing due criticism for the inconsistency in its playoff officiating. Google it.
To recap, the Golden Knights were leading the San Jose Sharks, 3-0, in Game 7 last night with less than 11 minutes left in the game when Vegas forward Cody Eakin cross checked San Jose forward Joe Pavelski coming out of a face off. The Sharks star lost his balance, and then he was hit pretty high by another Vegas skater, Paul Stastny. That led to an awkward and painful fall, where Pavelski hit the ice at the wrong angle and suffered severe injury.
After play was stopped for the injury, the NHL officials on the ice gathered and decided to give a five-minute major penalty to Eakin. What happened after that will become part of historic NHL lore as the Sharks rallied to score four goals on the power play and eventually win the game, and the series, in overtime.
Vegas fans and players may be livid about this, but the penalty call on Eakin was deserved. It was a high cross check, and Eakin should have spent time in the penalty box. However, he only deserved two minutes. It was Stastny who should have received the five-minute major for hitting a defenseless player high on the body and actually causing the injury.
In fact, the Golden Knights were lucky to only have one guy in the penalty box for those five minutes, instead of two skaters in there for the first two minutes. Plus, Vegas had held the Sharks to just 4-of-25 success on the power play in this series, so why did the Golden Knights suddenly collapse? They have to live with that shortcoming all off season, regardless of the officiating.
[Not to mention that Vegas also tied the game up with 47 seconds left and then didn’t win in overtime. There are a lot of holes in the Golden Knights’ gripes right now, logically speaking.]
It comes down to these two truths, however: Vegas still should have won the game with its defense, goaltending, and three-goal lead, despite the controversial call (which was right, in essence), and yes, the NHL needs to rely on replay more to get calls like this correct on the ice instead of “guessing”—which is sort of what happened in this situation.
Look, officiating is hard; any player knows this. Most fans don’t, since they have neither the benefit of real playing experience or live-game perspective. Fans get to see replay on TV, and the officials do not, for the most part. That’s why replay has become an integral part of all sports in terms of reviewing plays and getting calls correct. Why didn’t the NHL officials use it last night? They should have, to at least get the call(s) and the rationale behind the decision(s) accurate and clear.
They ended up getting the call right (mostly), but it would have been better to do it without the controversy. We have ideas about how to improve officiating in all sports, but replay has become a necessary component in the 21st century: Use it or suffer the wrath of those who perceive injustice.
Note: The writer spent the entire 2017-2018 season covering the Vegas Golden Knights for AXS.com, while also spending several years covering the San Jose Sharks as well for Examiner.com and AXS.com.