It was a strange sequence.
As the San Jose Sharks cleared the zone and moved the puck up ice, defenceman Brenden Dillon trailed behind the play. Dillon had broken a skate blade in his own end of the rink, and was hopping slowly and helplessly towards the San Jose bench.
Fans in the arena and media in the press box were distracted by the spectacle, which also drew the attention of both players’ benches.
In the Canucks end – 100-feet from where Dillon hobbled haplessly to the bench – Sharks defender Brent Burns took a pass at the right point. He flung a rising wrist shot on net.
The shot certainly did appear to have been deflected with a high stick. Canucks coach Willie Desjardins intimated post-game that Vancouver’s video coaches thought initially that it would be disallowed, but Hertl’s high tip was ruled a goal on the ice. After review, the NHL’s situation room determined that the replays were “inconclusive”. All of a sudden the Sharks were back in a game that they’d proceed to win 3-2 – their second victory in Vancouver in the span of a week.
In a post-game scrum (video above), Miller was fuming. Surrounded by live mics and camera lights, the Canucks veteran goaltender didn’t hold back.
“I just watched the replay and I think it’s a high-stick for sure. One hundred percent (a) high stick,” Miller said.
If you talk to Miller, you realize quickly that he’s a thoughtful guy. In explaining why Hertl’s goal shouldn’t have counted, Miller reached way back into the memory bank and referenced an eerily similar Martin Hanzal goal that went against him back in mid-November, 2014.
“I don’t think I’ve got a high stick call since I got here,” Miller said. “I don’t know what’s going on.
“Hanzal last year – who is six-foot-five, Hertl who is six-foot-three, six-foot-four and we just watched it hit the tip of his blade at the apex of his hands. I don’t know what the league is looking at. Just because it’s a goal on the ice, get it right, or just get rid of the rule. It’s wishy-washy.”
To his credit, Miller wasn’t just complaining. He did offer an alternate way that he’d prefer to see situations like this one handled.
“Because he calls it a goal they have to overturn it,” Miller said, referring to the call on the ice. “So if you don’t know where it’s at just say “it’s not up to me, I don’t know,” and go check it. Then call it a goal either way.
“You call it a goal on the ice, you handcuff the league. It’s definitely a high stick and they missed it.”
When Miller has gone off like this in the past – whether it was in his return to Buffalo earlier in the year when he prophetically called out the Canucks’ lackadaisical defensive play, or when he unloaded on Milan Lucic after being hit well out of his crease – he hasn’t earned much sympathy from the hockey-watching public. Not that Miller is likely to care.
“When I know something to be true on the ice and I watch the shot float high and the guy isn’t so far from me, and it still has to travel a certain distance – do the arithmetic,” Miller said. “Let’s get some calculus going. I don’t know.
“You can do the – what is it – the tangent, the sine all that stuff. You can estimate now, we have fast computers. That’s the new thing now…”
In this case, we should note that the veteran goalie seems to have a point – about both Hertl’s goal and that ancient Hanzal goal that still seems to stick in his craw. No matter how conclusive the replay was, common sense would indicate that both pucks were more likely deflected by a high stick than not.
One is left with the strong sense that, for Miller, this wasn’t just post-loss frustration, so much as an expression of principal. He even made sure to empathize with the referee who “missed” the call.
“I’m not surprised (that they missed the high stick on the ice),” Miller said. “For the most part they have to make tough decisions and tough calls, but you have to take it into consideration.
“If the shot is flying high, it’s a tall guy, and it hits the toe of his stick at the apex, I mean… And if you can’t say that I know that hit on a downward stroke, then you have to go and say I don’t know and leave it in somebody else’s hands because that’s why we have the replays.
“Once you call it a goal it becomes that much harder. I don’t understand, I just watched it. It’s high.”
The stakes here aren’t all that high. Even if Hertl’s second period goal had been disallowed, the Sharks scored enough in the third period to at least tie the game. One might even argue that the goal helped a Canucks team that would do well, in the big picture, to lose often down the stretch.
On Thursday night in Vancouver though, Miller let it all hang out. The veteran goaltender clearly believes that the goal shouldn’t have counted and he’s convinced that plays like this one can be handled in a better way.
“I’m very disappointed in that call,” Miller concluded.
Now perhaps Miller will tell us how he really feels.