Controversy makes NHL look bad in these playoffs

Controversy has surrounded too many games in these playoffs. The NHL looks bad for how some key decisions have impacted games on the big stage.

Look no further than what took place over the weekend. Let’s start with Saturday night in Vegas. Two calls helped determine the winner of a great Game 2 between the Sharks and Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.

The game went to sudden death. With the teams tied at three, you had officials involved in the outcome. A no no at this time of year. The Sharks got some help in their 4-3 double overtime victory that evened the best-of-seven Pacific Final.

In the first overtime, the Golden Knights thought they had won it when Jonathan Marchessault scored on a backhand rebound into a vacated net with Sharks goalie Martin Jones down. But Jones immediately disagreed with a wave of the arm. Was he interfered with? A automatic review from Toronto decided whether or not the goal would stand. Here is how it looked:

This is a tough one because Marchessault has Sharks defenseman Brendan Dillon right behind him as he makes contact with Jones before rebounding home Shea Theodore’s shot with 3:02 left in the first overtime.

At first, I thought it was a good goal. But the replay showed that Marchessault didn’t avoid Jones, who never had a chance to recover for the rebound opportunity. So they got it right. But the interesting thing is not everyone agreed. Former referee Kerry Fraser had a very interesting take on the controversy.

I don’t view it as goaltender interference. It’s incidental contact. Something they can use to reverse a goal. The odd aspect is you even have former goalies indicating that it should’ve counted.

So former NHLer Brent Johnson disagreed with the decision. He felt it should’ve counted due to where Jones’ arm was. His right skate was on the edge of the crease when he reaches with his right arm outside the blue paint to stop the Theodore shot. It’s borderline.

Either way, the reversal was made which drew the ire of some Vegas fans with a few tossing debris. Never what you want to see. It wasn’t as bad as the ugly scene in Philadelphia. It didn’t take long to get it cleaned up and for play to continue.

In the second overtime, this time it was a chintzy call that led to Logan Couture’s OT winner on the power play. Following a successful Knights’ kill of a ill advised Theodore hi-sticking minor, the refs made a questionable hooking call on Jon Merrill a few minutes later which handed the Sharks a second straight power play.

Something you don’t see in sudden death. I can see if it was a blatant infraction. But a soft hook in double overtime should be left alone. Play on. It was a awful call.

Not surprisingly, San Jose wasted no time taking full advantage. Off a successful faceoff win, Kevin Labanc took a Brent Burns feed and made a perfect bullet pass across to a wide open Couture on the left side. He made no mistake burying the shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to score the game-winner eight seconds into the power play at 5:13 of the second OT.

This isn’t to take away from San Jose’s hard fought 4-3 win in Game 2 that makes the series more interesting with it shifting to HP Pavilion for the next two. Game 3 is tonight at 10 PM. In my opinion, the weak call ruined a well played game between two evenly matched teams. It deserved a better ending. Such a garbage call would never have been made pre-lockout.

Fittingly, this wasn’t the only second round game that had controversy. On Sunday afternoon in Game 2 of the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Pens to even their series, you had two more big decisions which affected the game.

The first being the non call on instigator Tom Wilson’s vicious hit that knocked out key Pens defensive defenseman Brian Dumoulin out of the game. He left in the second period and didn’t return. Updating the story, he was at practice and said he was doing okay. Whether or not he plays in Game 3 tomorrow night remains uncertain.

Everyone knows how Wilson plays. A gritty physical forward who plays on the edge not unlike Bruins super pest and star Brad Marchand, Wilson never passes up a chance for a big hit in open ice. Not exactly the most popular player with opponents, he seems to always find himself in these complex situations after injuring opponents.

The controversial play took place during the second period. It was a odd one due to Alexander Ovechkin closing in on Dumoulin from the opposite side. Here’s how it looked:

As we can see, Dumoulin releases the puck with Ovechkin in plain sight while Wilson is coming from behind. Neither Cap leaves their feet. While Ovechkin delivers a clean shoulder with Dumoulin leaning forward, Wilson delivers a glancing blow from the blind side by leading with his right shoulder which catches Dumoulin high in the face and head from the side. The impact of both simultaneous hits flattens Dumoulin who lands hard on the ice in writhing pain with a glove off.

It’s ugly. Somehow, the refs decided no penalty was called. You can imagine how irate the Pens bench was along with the angry reactions on Twitter. There’s even a comparative double hit from both Wilson and Ovechkin that came against the Blue Jackets. Let’s show first Dumoulin’s reaction to the hit and then another close up view of Wilson’s shoulder which contacted the side of the head.

Obviously, he didn’t know Wilson was there at all. Dumoulin was bracing himself for Ovechkin’s hit. No surprise here since he saw him coming. Now, this is a better look at Wilson’s hit which didn’t even get a hearing from the NHL Department of Player Safety:

It looks worse up close. You can see the impact which a unsuspecting Dumoulin had no idea on. It’s amazing he has his wits a day later and was able to speak to reporters. As for the DOPS, why would they even have a hearing or suspend Wilson?

The odd part is opinions have been mixed. Watching NHL Network last night, both Kevin Weekes and Darren Pang felt it was a odd play due to Ovechkin coming from the other side. Weekes said he felt both Caps ran out of real estate which made the collision unavoidable. He also indicated that Wilson didn’t leave his feet which is true.

Considering that they say they want to eliminate such hits, the NHL again falls short here. They look like hypocrites. They punish some dirty cheap shots like the cross check Evander Kane delivered and the awful boarding from behind by Nazem Kadri that earned a three game ban in the first round. But other plays aren’t viewed the same even with a player of Wilson’s nature. Even if he said the right thing afterwards.

That wasn’t the only controversy yesterday. In the third period of Game 2 with the Caps leading 3-1, the Pens thought Patric Hornqvist had cut it to 3-2 with over 10 minutes left. Here is the goal that wasn’t:

Even NBC’s Doc Emrick called it a goal line. So did I. How wasn’t it? Braden Holtby was off his angle when Sidney Crosby went around the net and fed Hornqvist for what looked like a slam dunk. Only the NBC replays never had a definitive look. What’s the point of having cameras if they’re faulty? Another failure for the league partner. This is the best look at where the puck was:

It certainly looks conclusive enough to reverse. The ruling on the ice was no goal. They never signaled goal to my amazement. My question is what camera angles did they have? Just NBC. CBC has the best look.

Holtby does a great job scrambling back to get to the goal line and hide the puck. At no point could you tell if it were all the way over the line. I figured it had to have banked in off the inside of the near post and was sitting there just fully over for a goal.

Instead, the no goal was a huge break for the Caps. Even Mike Milbury thought it was a goal. Instead of a 3-2 lead with plenty of time for the Pens to come back against a fragile team that blew a two-goal lead in the third period of Game 1, it allowed the Caps to relax. A empty netter from Nicklas Backstrom that ironically Wilson assisted on finished off a Washington 4-1 win in Game 2 to send the series back to Pittsburgh all even. Game 3 is tomorrow night at 7:30 PM.

Such controversy isn’t good for the NHL. But this is what’s in place. They have no one to blame but themselves. The overturn in Vegas during sudden death along with the cheesy booking penalty is the worst case scenario. It leaves fans frustrated. Especially if you have a rooting interest and want a perfect conclusion to such a great game.

It’s not gonna change any time soon. Just another reason for hockey fans to question the direction of the league.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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