ST. LOUIS – It’s possible that no team in any sport has ever been at its best in the next game when players were fixated with the last one.
And in the pursuit of championships at the professional level, when only the best teams are still playing, winning is almost impossible if you’re thinking about bad calls or personal grudges or who’s watching or what people will say or what comes next. You’re either in the moment, focussed on winning, or you’re not. That’s it.
So, we can understand the St. Louis Blues’ fierce determination — and their almost desperate pleas — to move on from the injustice of the National Hockey League’s blown call in overtime that caused a 5-4 loss Wednesday to the San Jose Sharks and 2-1 deficit in the Western Conference Final.
But if this 53-year-old franchise that has never won a Stanley Cup does not recover and win this series, there will be some Blues players who never fully move on from Timo Meier’s illegal hand pass that set up Erik Karlsson’s overtime winner.
“We’ve moved on already,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube reiterated in his press conference Thursday morning. “The game is over. There’s nothing to talk about. Seriously, it’s over with. Things happen in games. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Again, we had an opportunity to close that game out in regulation and we didn’t. That’s how I look at it.”
There’s a lot of truth in that.
The Blues led 4-3 late in regulation and probably should have led by more because Sharks goalie Martin Jones made brilliant saves in the third period on David Perron and Brayden Schenn. Jaden Schwartz hit the post of the open San Jose net.
But after the Blues iced the puck twice with Jones on the bench for an extra skater, the Sharks tied it six-on-five with 61 seconds remaining when Joe Pavelski and scorer Logan Couture were given unimpeded chances from the edge of the crease.
The non-call against Meier in overtime, however, was so glaring and easily preventable if the NHL had a better system for reviews that everything preceding the deciding goal was eclipsed.
Whether it’s more oversight from the NHL war room in Toronto and the freedom for a supervisor there to over-rule an incorrect decision by referees and linesmen, or an expansion of the review process to include all aspects on a goal – not merely whether and how the puck crossed the line and whether there was goaltender interference – the league has to do something.
These playoffs have illustrated, especially Wednesday’s game and the phantom major penalty call in Game 7 of Round 1 that cost the Vegas Golden Knights their season, that the NHL’s current system of reviews is inadequate. It’s not protecting the integrity of the game, nor helping the integrity of the referees, who absurdly are the only people unable to watch a replay.
Both these incidents, of course, mightily helped the Sharks, who have been the best NHL team over the last 15 seasons but also are still looking for their first Stanley Cup.
For a change, the Sharks have had some luck this spring.
“It irks me when you use words like that,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer bristled. “This is a team. . . we’ve played four or five elimination games. Not moments, games – 12 to 15 periods of elimination hockey. Against Vegas, against Colorado in Game 7. I think it’s a ridiculous statement.”
DeBoer cited Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour’s comments from earlier Thursday about how fast the game is and how difficult it is to see everything without watching the replay monitors embedded at the benches.
“There’s so many bodies flying around and they’re split-second decisions,” DeBoer argued. “It’s easy when we sit there on the bench, or you guys sit there and look at a TV monitor and criticize and hold people accountable for errors that happen in milliseconds. You know what? We found a way.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity. We’ve had calls go against us, we’ve had calls go for us and we’re still standing. For anybody to minimize that, I think, is disrespectful to our group.”
Well, we’re giving the Blues the moral high ground on this one, although it’s silly for anyone to blame the Sharks for officiating mistakes that just as easily could have gone against them.
Asked twice on Thursday about his hand pass, Meier said “it’s a fast game” three times, and that he was just reacting to the puck bouncing up at him.
Game 4 is Friday.
“We can either discuss about it the next few days and be not ready for the next game, or just step over it . . . and we have a chance to tie (the series),” St. Louis winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. “There’s a lot of stuff around. It’s your guys’ job to do this, but our job to prepare ourselves. And I think the best way to prepare is stay tight together and focus on our game.”
Teams always need to move on to the next game. But there are degrees in difficulty to doing that.
“It is hard,” Berube conceded. “For sure, it’s not easy to do. It’s a test. That’s how you look at it. It’s a tough play, tough call. But it’s just a test. And again, we’ve been tested over and over throughout the season and the playoffs. And I think we’re pretty good at bouncing back. So that’s the way I look at it.
“It’s a mental thing more than anything. We’ve got to move past that game. Focus on Game 4. It’s a huge game, we’re at home, look to tie the series up and go back to San Jose.”
Tied 2-2 when they might have led 3-1.