Tuesday, 23 April 2019

It's Not Because Of The Penalty

Normally, when one sees this many sharks converging in one spot, one would assume there's a significant amount of chum in the area. Instead, these Sharks had just finished their blood-in-the-water moment in the third period before taking the final bite out of the Vegas Golden Knights with a Barclay Goodrow overtime game-winner. People will point at the major penalty to Cody Eakin as the turning point as the Sharks scored four times to take a 4-3 lead in Game Seven, but Vegas had multiple chances to oust the Sharks and just couldn't deliver the death blow.

We go to Game Five with the Golden Knights leading the series 3-1 after having taken three-straight games off the Sharks. Jonathan Marchessault scores at 11:36 to make cut the deficit to 3-2, but the Golden Knights give up a Tomas Hertl goal just 3:09 later to put San Jose up 4-2, and they'd ice the game with a Joe Pavelski goal at 18:14. Still two more chances, and the Golden Knights were heading home where they had won two-straight games.

But following the game, this happened.
Look, I like Hertl, but the Knights should have had his comment pasted all over every bulletin board, every window, every ticket booth, and anything else where it can be taped, pasted, or pinned because he's not Mark Messier. While I admire his courage, Tomas Hertl's comments should have rattled the helmets of the Vegas Golden Knights.

With the game tied 1-1 and in double-overtime, Tomas Hertl - yes, that Hertl - fired a blast past Marc-Andre Fleury at 11:17 in the fifth period of play to give the Sharks the 2-1 win. What should be noted here is that Martin Jones made 58 saves in this game! Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and Alex Tuch had 21 combined shots and had just one assist to show for their efforts. Martin Jones was magnificent in this game, but the Golden Knights have to find a way to dent twine more than once after throwing 59 pucks on net.

If one wants to point to a moment in this series where Vegas missed a glorious opportunity, it likely was the overtime periods in Game Six. The Golden Knights needed just one goal through the 30 minutes of overtime play, but couldn't solve Jones on 15 shots through the overtime periods. The Knights carried the play in overtime, out-shot the Sharks, but simply couldn't convert.

Entering the third period of tonight's game, the Knights once again held a 2-0 lead, and they increased the lead to 3-0 at 3:36 when Max Pacioretty found the back of net. The Knights were 16:24 from moving into the second round, but the cross-check by Eakin leading to Pavelski's injury and the subsequent five-minute major penalty was the opening that San Jose needed. But the Knights still should have controlled their own destiny.

Four power-play goals in 4:01 later, and the Golden Knights looked dazed and confused as the Sharks had completely stolen the game from the jaws of what appeared to be Golden Knights victory. And as the night rolls on, the players and fans and experts will point to the call and exclaim how the referees made a grave error by making this call that determined this series.

Did they?
Pretty sure that Eakin's stick parallel to the ice and pushing Pavelski backwards would mean that the criteria in Rule 59.1 was met. If we jump to Rule 59.3, the severity of the cross-check and the associated penalty is at the discretion of the referee, and in seeing Pavelski lying motionless on the ice following his fall it seems the referee deemed the penalty worthy of a major penalty.

Most penalties called in the NHL are at the referee's discretion, so can fans really be upset if the guy Eakin cross-checked is seriously injured and can't return? Let's be honest: Eakin's cross-check led to a series of unfortunate events for Pavelski that ended up with him being hurt, and the referee reacted with the severity of the penalty to the injury on the ice. With 59.3 now being assessed, that also activates Rule 59.5 which would see Eakin receive a game misconduct. That's how the rule book is written.

Honestly, the five-minute major is a setback, but the Golden Knights were 4-for-4 while shorthanded in this game. The Sharks were 4-for-25 with the man-advantage prior to the major penalty, so whatever the Golden Knights were doing on their penalty kills, it was working. And then the ceiling caved in.

Look, one can blame the officials for handing out that penalty. But the penalty kill of the Golden Knights fell apart in four minutes in Game Seven. And they still had chances to end the series in Games Five and Six. To point at one moment and exclaim, "That cost us the season," that's just patently false when there were many moments that the Golden Knights just couldn't kill the Sharks.

If you have your foot on your opposition's throat, you better end them. Allowing them to get up off the mat and continue to fight usually results in bad things. That's exactly what the Golden Knights did, and now they'll gave all summer to ask how they missed so many opportunities to gut the Sharks after going up 3-1 in this series.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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