ST. LOUIS – Asked directly if his overtime playoff game-winner, the one that gave the San Jose Sharks a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues, was set up by an illegal hand pass, defenceman Erik Karlsson said: "We weren’t playing handball were we?"
Europeans. Handball? No, clearly Timo Meier was playing volleyball.
A great game was overshadowed by a massive call, one that referees Marc Joanette and Dan O’Rourke, and linesmen Jonny Murray and Matt MacPherson, appeared to get wrong Wednesday. The Sharks’ 5-4 win against the St. Louis Blues seemed like further evidence that the National Hockey League must do something to help its officials on game-deciding calls.
Instead, the four guys wearing stripes were the only ones in the hockey universe unable, due to NHL restrictions of video review, to look at a replay and see that Meier cuffed the puck to teammate Gustav Nyquist, who relayed it to Karlsson for the winning goal at 5:23 of overtime.
Had it been Game 7 instead of Game 3, the missed call would have been every bit as explosive and damaging to the NHL as the phantom five-minute major assessed to the Vegas Golden Knights that enabled the Sharks to overcome a three-goal deficit in the deciding game and take that first-round series in seven.
St. Louis forward Brayden Schenn smashed his stick against the glass as the officials headed for the exit, and Blues goalie Jordan Binnington skated the length of the ice in an attempt to confront them.
"Everyone keeps talking about the hand pass, so there must have been something," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, whose rebound was swept in by Logan Couture with 1:01 left in regulation time to force overtime, told reporters asking about Meier’s apparent infraction. "At the end of the day, there were calls that could go both ways. That’s the playoffs. There’s adversity and you have to adjust and handle it and keep your cool.
"(The officials) are not trying to screw anybody; they really aren’t. They’re good guys. It may not always seem that way. Tonight we might have caught a break, but there were a lot of breaks going both ways all night."
But only one that decided the game in overtime.
NHL series supervisor Kay Whitmore told pool reporter Jeremy Rutherford: "It’s just non-reviewable. I know that sounds like a cop-out answer, but that’s the truth."
Should it be reviewable?
Whitmore: "There’s a group of people (general managers) that will make that decision at some point."
It is impractical for the NHL to review everything. Games would take forever. And the extra time would be spent tediously, players standing around instead of playing.
But it seems preposterous that a game-deciding goal cannot be examined for its legality unless the contentious aspect falls within the narrow parametres of allowable review.
So, miss a hand pass that sets up an overtime winner? Good goal.
Guess wrong at a major penalty because a player is seriously hurt, when it should have been a minor or no penalty at all? Good goals.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the greatest tournaments in all of sports. It should be hockey at its best, not its most controversial.
The NHL needs to find a better mechanism to help get calls right.
"Yeah," St. Louis winger David Perron said, halting his answer there because the Blues immediately decided to focus on winning Game 4 on Friday since overturning Game 3 is impossible.
"I really didn’t get an explanation other than I guess there’s a different set of rules for two different teams," St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I’m sure they’ll lose some sleep tonight after looking at it. That’s all I’m going to say about it."
Blues defenceman Colton Parayko said: "Forget about this one. That’s just what we’ve got to do. There’s no time to kind of look back. The only looking back is us looking at what we can improve on. There’s no changing what happened tonight. Hopefully, we’re not put in that situation again."
Playing on one leg after missing 27 games late in the season due to a groin injury, Karlsson scored the first and last goals for the Sharks. Joe Thornton, who had one assist in his previous eight games and was badly beaten on the deciding goal in the Blues’ 4-2 win on Monday, had two goals and an assist. And Couture, one of the most prolific playoff scorers of his generation, tied it with his 14th goal of the playoffs — in 17 games — while San Jose goalie Martin Jones was on the bench for an extra skater.
Perron scored twice for the Blues, his power-play blast at 18:42 of the second period capping a three-goal outburst by St. Louis that erased a 3-1 deficit.
But none of those performances could suppress the refereeing story. Couture’s desperate tying goal, followed by Karlsson’s winner from the hand of god, created a seismic shift in the series.
"It’s as big as we make it," Couture said. "Game 4, they’re going to come out angry and they’re going to want to play like they did for the majority of this game. We’re going to have to be way better than we were tonight."
At 39, Thornton has experienced more than most players. He said mistakes happen because officials, like players, are human. Thornton doesn’t believe the NHL should expand reviews to things like hand passes and the puck-over-the-glass call the referees also got wrong in the second period when Perron was not penalized.
"It’s so hard," Thornton said. "For me, personally, there still has to be some error. I’d hate for the game to be slowed down for every little (thing). You have to let the referees be human."