A look at the most controversial calls of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Ron MacLean, Nick Kypreos, Kelly Hrudey and Elliotte Friedman discuss Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins.

Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final couldn’t end without controversy. The game-winning goal that put the Blues up 3-2 in the series came just after what looked like an obvious tripping infraction that went uncalled against St. Louis.

Of course – and unfortunately – refereeing has been a big story throughout these playoffs. There have been some very controversial calls, and missed calls, that have given one team a big advantage at one moment in time. Not always have these calls definitively turned the tides in one direction, but the NHL will certainly leave this post-season with a lot to consider in terms of reform. Increase plays that can be reviewed? Open coaches’ challenges to more infractions? Take one referee off the ice and put him in the press box as an eye in the sky? Everything will have to be reviewed this summer.

“The ability to review and parse plays down to the millisecond has become both a blessing and a curse,” Bettman said in late May. “No one should doubt that we want to get it right. The fundamental question is the it; when to intervene and what are the instances that require doing so, and of course, how to do it without destroying the fabric and essential elements of our game.

“We want every call to be correct.”


Game 5’s missed call was just the latest. Here’s a reminder of some of the other ones that have made the refs a focal point of these playoffs.


What happened: Up 3-0 with a little more than half of the third period left, Vegas was in full control and seemingly on its way to a Round 1 victory over San Jose. But off a faceoff in Vegas’s end, Cody Eakin got tied up with Joe Pavelski, who ended up falling so awkwardly that he was left bloody and had to be helped off the ice. Pavelski didn’t return to the game and Eakin was given a five-minute major for cross-checking. Upon further review, the most that should have come out of this was a two-minute minor, if any penalty should have been called at all.

The result: Unfathomably, the Sharks used the advantage to come all the way back and even take the lead. Their first power-play marker came seven seconds into the power play and they added their second 49 seconds later. By the time Eakin had left the box, San Jose scored four goals and were up 4-3 with just over five minutes left. With the goalie pulled, Vegas actually tied it on a Jonathan Marchessault goal that forced overtime, but San Jose’s Barclay Goodrow scored to end the series. Afterwards, Vegas GM George McPhee said the league apologized for the call.

What the aggrieved side said: “They called five minutes for that? Why don’t you have hockey replay or something? It changed the whole outcome of the game,” 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.”


What happened: As the Avs trailed 2-1 with a little more than 12 minutes left in the second period, a turnover just outside the blue line resulted in a 2-on-1 led by Nathan MacKinnon and Colin Wilson, who seemingly scored to tie the game. But the Sharks challenged the call for offside, specifically because it appeared Gabriel Landeskog may not have tagged up outside the offensive zone as he was heading to the bench for a change.

The controversy around this one had to do with definitive evidence that either, a) Landeskog didn’t tag up and his back foot was still in the offensive zone rather than touching the blue line, or b) that his back foot was lifted off the ice as he was exiting play. It’s really hard to find anything conclusive in the replays, but the NHL decided to negate the goal. The other thought in this is: if Landeskog was still ruled to be part of the play, how could there not be a too many men call, as his replacement already hopped on the ice?

The result: The Avs put on pressure, that’s for sure. San Jose only registered two shots in the entire third period, but they never surrendered another goal. The Sharks moved through to the Western Conference Final with another controversial Game 7 win. The reaction from the losing team this time was more tepid because the general feeling was that with a little hustle, this was avoidable.

What the aggrieved side said: “It’s just a clumsy mistake – get off the ice,” Landeskog said afterwards. “If I could have done something different on that play I would have jumped the boards a lot quicker.”


What happened: You may have forgotten the Blue Jackets led their Round 2 series against Boston 2-1. And though they lost the last three games to fall in six, there was a moment in Game 4 that could have swung momentum in Columbus’s favour.

The Bruins led 2-0 in the first half of the first period and seemed to be in full control. But Artemi Panarin got Columbus on the board just a minute-and-a-half after the Bruins’ second goal and now we had a game. The thing was, just before Panarin put it in, the puck hit the netting behind the goal, so the play should have been blown dead.

The result: Columbus didn’t score again and Boston converted twice in the third period, so ultimately this goal didn’t tip the scales in an unjust direction. But the fallout brought into question what is, and what should be, reviewable. According to the NHL rulebook, had the puck hit the netting and “immediately” gone into the net, this goal could have been reviewed and would have been overturned. But because the play continued for another six seconds and was touched by a couple of different players, the goal wasn’t immediate enough.

What the aggrieved side said: “In this day and age I think it’s crazy that, you know, if the refs don’t see it, why the league can’t call … I mean, they’re watching the game, right?” Tuukka Rask said. “I mean, what if that’s in overtime, you know? It didn’t cost us, but I think it’s just funny that they can look at a lot of other goals going back and calling back, so why not that?”


What happened: There were a couple wild swings in this game. San Jose had a 3-1 lead at one point, but then St. Louis scored three goals to close out the second period with a 4-3 lead. Logan Couture scored with 1:01 left in regulation to send it to overtime, when another controversial missed call occurred. With the Sharks attacking, Timo Meier fell to the ice and batted the puck towards the front of the net with his hand. Gustav Nyquist was the first player to touch it afterwards, which should have resulted in the play being blown dead.

The result: After Nyquist touched it, he passed the puck over to a wide open Erik Karlsson, who scored his second of the game to give the Sharks a 2-1 series lead. There was some debate about whether or not the puck deflected off Jay Bouwmeester’s leg before it reached Nyquist, but the rulebook clearly states that a simple deflection doesn’t negate a hand pass in the offensive zone. And besides, Bouwmeester himself said the puck didn’t hit him.

The FanDuel sportsbook offered “bad beat relief” for those who placed a single money-line wager on the Blues with their bet refunded in website credit. St. Louis did its job to rally though and never trailed again the rest of the series. They won three in a row, outscoring the Sharks 12-2 in Games 4-6 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.

What the aggrieved side said: “I didn’t really get an explanation,” Alex Pietrangelo said. “I guess there’s a different set of rules for two different teams. I’m sure (the referees) will lose some sleep tonight after looking at it.”


What happened: With the Blues up 1-0, but Boston holding a distinct edge in shots, St. Louis got an insurance marker about halfway through the third period after a blatant missed call. As Noel Acciari got the puck near the boards in his own end, Tyler Bozak hit him skate-on-skate and tripped up the Bruins forward. Maybe (maybe) there was some embellishment on Acciari’s part, but the egregious miss here was on Bozak, who should have gone to the box for two minutes.

Whatever you think about it, the play should have been blown dead. Instead, Acciari was removed from the play and the Blues scored seconds later to take a 2-0 lead.

The result: That Bozak got a secondary assist on the goal added salt to the wound, but Jake DeBrusk’s marker for Boston three minutes later made this controversial goal stand as the game-winner. The Bruins outshot the Blues 39-21 so in the grand scheme it was another terrific game from Jordan Binnington that was the difference for St. Louis, but on a micro level the game-winner shouldn’t have counted. Now the series heads back to St. Louis and the Blues have a chance to win the Cup on home ice.

What the aggrieved side said: “The National Hockey League’s getting a black eye with their officiating in these playoffs, and there’s another one that’s going to be talked about,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s right in front of the official. It’s a slewfoot. Our guy’s gone. The spotter took him out of the game for a possible concussion. I mean, it’s blatant. It had a big effect on the game.

“It really made it difficult for us to get the win tonight. So, I’m disappointed.”

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