By Lou Korac
The Blues have endured plenty of heartache in their 52 years of existence, much of it surrounding ways of chasing their first-ever Stanley Cup.
If they fail to achieve their goal during this 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff season, they’ll look back on an obvious blown call by four officials as to one of the main reasons why.
Erik Karlsson’s second goal of the game at 5:23 of overtime gave the San Jose Sharks a 5-4 win over the Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Enterprise Center on Wednesday.
The Sharks, who took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, scored the game-winner on the most obvious of missed calls by referees Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke, along with linesmen Jonny Murray and Matt MacPherson.
Timo Meier, the culprit that should have been whistled for a hand pass, initially shot the puck from the top of the right circle that was blocked by Jay Bouwmeester. Meier dove and got his stick on the puck as Blues defenseman Colton Parayko tried to collect it. The puck popped in the air and Meier, sliding on his knees, clearly bats the puck to the crease, past Bouwmeester onto the stick of Gustav Nyquist. The play should have been whistled there, but none came, and Nyquist made a quick pass to Karlsson, who scored through Jordan Binnington to set San Jose’s celebration off.
Joannette was behind net, perhaps with an obstructed view, O’Rourke was nowhere in the picture of the telecast, and both linesmen were nowhere near the play as well.
The Blues immediately protested. Binnington had both arms up, players from both teams skated towards the four officials, who convened at the center ice red line at the scorer’s table. After a discussion of roughly two minutes, they skated off the ice, Blues players incensed. Pat Maroon and Alex Pietrangelo verbally berating the officials, Brayden Schenn slammed his stick against the glass where the officials vacated, as did Binnington, and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, visibly upset downstairs afterwards, slammed his hand against the door to the officials’ room and yelled, “(expletive) garbage!”
Blues fans, all 18,360 of them, began to pelt the ice with bottles and whatever they could hurl at the four in stripes, showing obvious and warranted frustration, and what is another black eye for a league that continues to have more questions than answers when it comes to its rules and blatant missed calls by those put in charge to make them.
The supervisor of the series is Kay Whitmore, who answered to a pool reporter on the issue.
Whitmore was asked if it was a hand pass:
“It’s a non-reviewable play,” Whitmore answered.
That is obvious.
Did any of the officials see it?
“What they told me? It’s a non-reviewable play,” Whitmore said. “You can read between the lines. You can figure out what you want. You watched the video. But it’s just non-reviewable. I know that sounds like a cop-out answer, but that’s the truth.”
In other words, it’s a subtle way of saying the officials messed up.
Any leeway on Toronto’s part to step in?
“If there was, then you answered your (question),” Whitmore said. “The way the rules are written, any chance there is to review, everything is reviewed that’s reviewable. But as the rules currently stand, the play is non-reviewable.”
To which Whitmore was asked if this should be a reviewable play.
“There’s a group of people (GM’s) that will make that decision at some point,” he said.
The Blues, who can also lament giving up the lead with a minute remaining in regulation, were left with little in the way of answers afterwards.
Some players were biting their lips trying to hold their heads high, some … not so much.
“I didn’t really get an explanation other than I guess there’s a different set of rules for two different teams so I’m sure they’ll lose some sleep tonight after looking at it,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said, who then was asked if it was a hand pass.
He laughed, “I said that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
Blues forward David Perron, who scored two second-period goals, said: “Did it appear it was a hand pass? It was, but let’s move forward and that’s what we’ll try to do here in the next 24 hours. We’re a really good team in here. We feel our first 10 minutes were awesome and then they score two goals, kind of put is on our heels and we found a way to come back in the second with a good period, then a really good third period, they get a bounce and we played well in overtime as well.”
Forward Alexander Steen also did not want to comment, and Parayko wasn’t too forthcoming on it either.
Interim coach Craig Berube?
“No explanation (was given),” he said. “I’ve got nothing to say about it.”
Berube was pressed some more.
“What do you guys think,” he asked, and when given a consensus answer that it was a hand pass, he replied, “Then don’t ask me. No reason to ask me.”
And just like that, he Blues trail in a series they felt like they should be leading. It was bad, it was egregious, and it’s bad at any point in the season, but it’s especially bad in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that costs a team a chance to win.
“Yeah, it’s unacceptable, but it’s OK, it’s 2-1 right now,” Perron said, taking the high road as best as he can. “Well, yeah, it was a hand pass and we’re going to try and move forward. The league’s going to take care of it like they’ve done in the past so far in the playoffs.”
And to rub salt in the wound, Meier was credited with an assist on the play, and Karlsson’s response when asked if it was a hand pass.
“We weren’t playing handball, were we?” he said. “We were playing hockey. We deserved to win this game. At the end of the day, I don’t think either team drew the shorter stick on any of the calls. Fair game.”
What’s going to bother the Blues more is that they had the chance to close the deal in regulation and didn’t.
From Perron and Schenn getting robbed in the third period by Sharks goalie Martin Jones when the game was 4-3 to Jaden Schwartz missing an empty-netter that hit the side of the post with just over a minute left, to the Blues winning a key draw but losing a board battle that led to Logan Couture’s tying goal with 1:01 remaining.
“That’s a good bounce on their end,” Pietrangelo said. “Sometimes they get the bounces. We didn’t get the bounces. That’s all it was. It’s not much room for him to put that in. Game of inches right now. They got the bounce.”
A bounce that happened after Pietrangelo iced the puck twice, and Couture even admitted Pietrangelo’s icings helped him.
“I was happy that they kept icing the puck,” Couture said. “I was a little tired, I had been out there for 30 minutes. Pietrangelo kept icing it, gave me some time to catch my breath. I think a couple of us were tired so we were happy that he kept icing it.
“‘Jumbo’ [Joe Thornton] made a good play on the wall, kind of a battle, their guy threw it at the net, we were able to outnumber him. The puck came loose a little bit and I think I got my stick on it before Binnington could cover it.”
Pietrangelo said: “You are just trying to make a hard play. They’ve got the extra guy. You’re hoping to get a bounce. It’s kind of hard when there are guys on you. Sometimes when you flip it up like that it spins back. Sometimes it goes forward. Again, a game of inches.”
The Blues overcame a pair of two-goal deficits, down 2-0 after one and 3-1 early in the second and stormed back and took a 4-3 lead after two periods.
They scored four second-period goals, including Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen.
It was their job to hold the lead, which they’ve done so well in these playoffs and they played a solid third period … until the end.
“Yeah, I thought we had a good third period, exactly the way we’re supposed to play and they find a way to get one with the goalie pulled,” Perron said. “It’s a tough bounce and it’s 2-1 right now. We’re going to have to go to bed tonight and come back here with a smile on our face and make some few adjustments that we can make and keep playing our game.”
“It’s difficult to lose in overtime, the playoffs, anytime,” Berube said. “You’ve got to move on. The team’s got to move on. We’ve all got to move on from it and get ready for Game 4. Really, that’s all you can do. We played a solid hockey game but we were on the losing side of it. And there’s nothing we can do about what happened. We’ve just got to move on.”
Easier said than done.
The Blues also lost defenseman Vince Dunn in the first period after he was struck in the mouth by a Brenden Dillon shot.
Berube said Dunn was being evaluated after the game and an update would be given Thursday but it looks like a serious injury.
Dunn fell to the ice and dropped his stick, needing help to the locker room bleeding from his mouth.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports