Friday, 15 April 2016

Toronto Didn't Defeat St. Louis

There has been an increased amount of chatter since the playoffs started about the coach's challenge possibly determining a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final, but what if it costs a very good team a chance to advance? There are legitimately three teams from the Central Division who could be considered Stanley Cup favorites, and only one of them will be able to represent the division in the Western Conference Final. But what happens if a coach's challenge sees a team lose a game or series because Toronto overturns a call?

Tonight's game between St. Louis and Chicago saw the momentum swing back to the visitors' side as the Blackhawks challenged a goal and won followed by St. Louis challenging a call and losing the challenge. What went from a 2-1 advantage for the Blues turned into a 3-2 victory for the Blackhawks after a late empty-net goal.

The offside call made on the play that led to Vladimir Tarasenko's goal would have been easily allowed based on how difficult was to determine the offside. Had this play been left in the hands of the officials, I will go on record and say that the play wouldn't have been overturned whatsoever due to how close the call was. Here's the review, and you can see how close this offside call was as we found out that Jori Lehtera was, indeed, offside on the play. Also, kudos to the fans in St. Louis for the amazing rendition of "Let It Be" during the review process!
The Situation Room in Toronto determined Lehtera to be offside based on his skate lifting off the ice in the neutral zone prior to the puck hitting the blue line in what might be the closest offside call I've ever seen. Granted, the NHL stated that the blue line cameras they were installing would aid them in getting these close calls correct, and they were required to use them on this instance to get an offside call right.

What seemed like a desperation move at the time from the Blackhawks turned out to be the right call as Tarasenko's goal to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead was wiped out and the clock was reset to the point of the offside with the teams knotted up at 1-1 again. I noted the relevant part of Rule 83.1 which clearly states,
"Off-side - Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone. The position of the player's skates and not that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play. A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line regardless of the position of his stick."
Regardless of what the fans and Blues thought, this one is clearly covered in the NHL Rule Book to the letter. Lehtera was offside as both his skates were determined to be across the leading edge of the blue line thanks to his back skate lifting off the ice in the neutral zone thereby placing him in an offside position as the puck had not crossed onto the blue line.

NHL senior director of hockey operations Kay Whitmore said that had the NHL not instituted blue line cameras for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is likely that the replays would have been inconclusive. The goal, in that case, would have remained a good goal. In other words, a very good job on this call was done by the boys in the Situation Room in Toronto.

Minutes later, though, there was more controversy as Chicago scored a goal where it seemed like Andrew Shaw has interfered with Brian Elliott's ability to make the save. As a result, Shaw knocked the puck past Elliott for the 2-1 lead, and everyone that wasn't standing on the Chicago bench in Scottrade Center voiced their thoughts on Shaw's perceived goaltender interference. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock did the obvious thing and called for a review due to goaltender interference. Here's the video of Shaw's goal for reference.
Do you agree that Shaw's power-play goal is a good goal?

I understand that Kevin Shattenkirk bumped Shaw into Elliott, so that part isn't interference. But what about the slash to Elliott's pad when Shaw tries to bat the puck out of mid-air? Is that not goaltender interference? Is slashing not a form of interference? If that slash was performed on anyone but the goaltender, shouldn't that be whistled for a penalty?

This where things get a little murky. The NHL Situation Room released this statement following the review of Shaw's goal:
"After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line.

Therefore the original call stands - good goal Chicago Blackhawks."
The referee confirmed the call, not the NHL Situation Room. The Situation Room would have pointed out something the officials may have missed on the ice, but it's ultimately the referee's decision on a goaltender interference call. All the Situation Room would do in this case is feed the replays to the referees looking at the tablets and would have alerted the officials if something different was seen. In this case, nothing was seen to constitute interference - including the slash - so the official's call stands. Good goal for Chicago.
Like any penalty, the goalie interference call is entirely based on what the officials saw, and the swing-and-miss on the puck doesn't constitute interference on this play in the official's mind. What is a penalty to some may not be a penalty to others, and that's why they play the games. In any case, the Blues were quite adamant that Shaw's goal wouldn't have happened had they simply been better in their own zone.

"For a guy to be loose like that, that's what we can control," captain David Backes said after the game. "We can control checking that guy to make sure he gets cleared out of the blue paint in front of our goaltender, that we don't need the refs to blow it quicker, or call a goalie interference or call no goal. That's what we can control. We can't control the officials."

Ultimately, Backes is right, and the Blues and Blackhawks are tied at 1-1 as the series shifts to Chicago. While the results are disappointing from tonight's game for Blues fans, the reality is that this series is far from over. There's nothing the officials nor Toronto can do about that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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