The San Jose Sharks erased a late three-goal deficit and pulled off a stunning comeback victory in Game 7 of their opening-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night, but some might argue they got a little help from the officiating. Or some might argue they got a lot of help from the officiating.
With a little over 10 minutes to go in the third period and the sputtering Sharks trailing 3-0, their season looked all but over. But an incident immediately following a faceoff resulted in an injury to Sharks center Joe Pavelski and five-minute major penalty to Vegas, and this development turned the game upside down.
After losing the faceoff, Golden Knights forward Cody Eakin delivered a cross-check to the chest of Pavelski, knocking him off-balance and into Vegas' Paul Stastny. Pavelski was knocked off his feet and landed awkwardly on the ice, appearing to hit his head/shoulder on the playing surface.
The Sharks captain laid on the ice in obvious pain and he began bleeding pretty heavily before a doctor was able to come to his aid and help him to the locker room. Pavelski was already wearing a special chin guard after taking a puck to the face earlier in the series.
After seeing Pavelski in distress, officials gave Eakin a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
It's rare to see to see a cross-check to the chest penalized as harshly as Eakin's. The Golden Knights were furious with the ruling, and the officials apparently explained that they saw the blood and believed that Pavelski had been cross-checked in the face.
Gallant claims the referee told him that Eakin "got [Pavelski] in the face with the stick," which if accurate is absolutely baffling.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 24, 2019
In any case, the ruling gave San Jose five minutes on the man-advantage, and the Sharks took full advantage. A team that had been struggling to find offense all night promptly ripped off four power-play goals in less than four minutes. Not only did the Sharks have life ... they had the lead with less than 10 minutes left in regulation.
Vegas was able to tie the game in the final minute of the third period to force overtime, but they lost the game and the series when San Jose fourth-liner Barclay Goodrow scored the deciding goal in OT.
After the golden goal, it was expected that the Golden Knights would have some strong feelings about the officiating and the pivotal moment that turned the tide to allow the Sharks to climb back into the game. That was certainly true of Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault, who pulled no punches in his postgame media session.
"It's a f---ing joke," Marchessault said of the official's decision to give a major. "It's embarrassing. That's what it is."
"Probably 50 percent of the faceoffs, players -- if they lose -- they probably give a small cross-check. If you want to call the cross-check, fine, call it. It's a cross-check. But seriously, he falls bad. It's unfortunate. ... I really hope he's OK and he comes back, but that call changes the whole outcome. It changes the whole future for us and the outcome of this year. It's a joke. I would be embarrassed if I was them."
Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant didn't seem to thrilled with the way things were handled either.
"Last year we lost in the Stanley Cup Finals. Tonight was tougher than that, the way we lost that hockey game," said Gallant, via ESPN.
Regardless of how you interpret the ruling, the Golden Knights still had a chance to limit the damage with their penalty-killing unit and preserve their lead. Instead, they gave up four straight and were forced to play their way back into the game to even have a shot.
This is certainly going to be an incident and a game that hockey fans discuss for a while, and it could potentially lead to changes in the way the league approaches these kinds of calls on the ice. If the league feels that this incident wasn't handled properly and it had too much of an impact on the outcome of the game (and series), then maybe we're looking at the possibility of major penalties and game misconducts being reviewable down the road.