And then it all unravelled.
Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major for cross-checking on a play off the faceoff that led to Joe Pavelski falling awkwardly to the ice. Pavelski was left bleeding and had to be helped off. The end result of the play was nasty, yes, but was the actual check worthy of five minutes?
First, here is what the rule book says about cross-checking majors:
Rule 59.3: A major penalty, at the discretion of the referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who “cross checks” an opponent.
Now here’s the contact Eakin made on Pavelski:
Just seven seconds after the penalty, Logan Couture scored to make it 3-1. Tomas Hertl added another less than a minute later and by the time the five minutes had lapsed, the Sharks had taken an unfathomable 4-3 lead.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, series supervisor Don Van Massenhoven explained the call this way: “The referees called a cross-checking penalty for an infraction that caused a significant injury. In their judgment, the infraction and its result merited a major penalty.”
In another amazing turn of events, the Golden Knights tied it up with 47 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. But, with less than two minutes to go in the first overtime period, Barclay Goodrow scored to send the Sharks to the second round.
It’s rare that a team gives up four goals on a single five-minute major, so the Golden Knights don’t avoid all blame for blowing such a commanding lead so late in the game. And the fact they forced overtime should soften the blow of the penalty call, although after they were eliminated, that cross-checking penalty was front of mind for the Vegas players.
“I thought we came into this building and played a good game, a solid game,” Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury told reporters. “Did the right things, and this five-minute (penalty) cost us the game, ultimately the series.”
That was among the more tame responses.
“They called five minutes for that? Why don’t you have hockey replay or something? It changed the whole outcome of the game,” Jonathan Marchessault said. “Seriously. What is that? It’s so disappointing. The game is not even close, it’s 3-0. Call the two, OK, but a five? With something you don’t even see? You just called the outcome. It’s a joke, that’s what it is. It’s embarrassing.”
Marchessault went so far as to compare it to the missed pass interference call in the New Orleans Saints-Los Angeles Rams NFC championship game in the NFL this past season.
“They said that basically he cross-checked him across the face and we all saw that didn’t happen,” an irritated Gerard Gallant said after the game. “Last year we’re in the Stanley Cup Final and it was tough to lose. Tonight was tougher than that.
“I’m sure you’ve all seen it on TV, there was no intent. I feel awful Joe (Pavelski) got hurt, he’s a class player for that team, everybody loves him. There was no intent. There was no high stick that hit him in the face. When (Paul) Stastny came out they sort of got caught up and he fell and banged his head on the ice.
“It was an awful call. We all saw it. It’s too bad we ended up losing because of that.”
Despite feeling that this game was stolen out from under them by a costly penalty call, the Golden Knights’ penalty kill was a sore spot for the team heading into the post-season. Although they finished with the 14th-best PK on the season, from the trade deadline through Game 82 Vegas killed just 73.3 per cent of its penalties — only Edmonton and Chicago were worse in that span. Vegas, as well, once held a 3-1 lead in the series, but couldn’t close it out in three attempts.
The Sharks, meanwhile, became just the second team in NHL history to overcome a three-goal third-period deficit to win a Game 7, joining the Boston Bruins who did it to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013.