Joe Pavelski’s head slammed to the ice, blood pooling nearby after he took an awkward fall following cross-check by Cody Eakin.
As Pavelski was helped to the locker room by his teammates, the officials huddled to decide what sort of punishment to dole out after not initially making a penalty call on the ice.
The decision they made turned the tide of Game 7 between the Vegas and San Jose and will be debated for years to come in both cities after it spurred a rally that carried the Sharks to a 5-4 overtime win Tuesday night.
“I’m sure you’ve all seen it on TV, there was no intent,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “I feel awful that Joe got hurt, he’s a class player for their team, everybody loves him. But there was no intent, there was no high stick that hit him in the face. When (Paul) Stastny (came) out, they sort of got caught up and he fell and banged his head on the ice. That’s the unfortunate part of it, it was an awful call. We all seen it. It’s too bad we end up losing because of that because were we in control of the hockey game.”
The penalty happened on a faceoff in San Jose’s offensive zone with 10:47 to play and Vegas leading 3-0. Eakin cross-checked Pavelski in the chest and then Stastny bumped him as he fell to the ice, his helmet slamming down. Pavelski was knocked out and bleeding on the ice before being helped back to the locker room with a towel to his head to control the bleeding.
No call was made on the ice initially but the officials huddled and gave Eakin a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct.
“The referees called a crosschecking penalty for an infraction that caused a significant injury,” series supervisor Don VanMassenhoven said. “In their judgment, the infraction and its result merited a major penalty.”
The Golden Knights clearly felt differently and were even more upset after San Jose turned that one penalty into four goals in a span of 4:01 to take a 4-3 lead.
“They called five minutes for that? Why don’t you have hockey replay or something? It changed the whole outcome of the game,” forward Jonathan 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.”
Marchessault compared the decision to the no-call on a pass interference play that cost the New Orleans Saints a possible trip to the Super Bowl in the NFL earlier this year. He said he believes officials should be able to use replay in these situations.
“It changes the whole outcome,” he said. “Obviously human error exists, but it’s a fast game for everyone. I think everybody needed that extra help and I think they just got involved in the game. They called a bad call and look where were we are now. Summer’s starting. Five months until Game 1 of the regular season starts.”
The game wasn’t quite over as Marchessault tied it with 47 seconds left in regulation but San Jose still prevailed when Barclay Goodrow scored the series-clincher 18:19 into overtime.
“Last year we were in the Stanley Cup finals and it was tough to lose, tonight was tougher than that,” Gallant said. “It really was, the way we lost that hockey game.”
The Sharks were more concerned about Pavelski’s well-being than the call after the game, while also pointing out decisions that went against them in the series.
Eakin’s goal that made it 2-0 in the second period was deflected with his stick that might have been higher than the cross-bar, which would have negated it for a high touch. A replay review upheld the call but the Sharks weren’t pleased.
Earlier in the series in Game 2, the Sharks had a tiebreaking goal early in the second period wiped out by a goaltending interference call against Logan Couture that San Jose didn’t feel was warranted. Making matters worse, Couture was also given a penalty on the play and Vegas scored to take a 4-3 lead on the ensuing power play.
But the call against Eakin will be the one remembered long after this series is over.
“I haven’t looked at it,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “You have a guy who is obviously out cold on the ice. If you’re a referee that’s obviously a distressing sign. As far as the calls go, you go back in the series and there are calls we didn’t get too that changed games at different points. You deal with it. We found a way to deal with it on the negative one and the positive one.”