It was 3-0.
The Vegas Golden Knights held what looked like an insurmountable lead in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks. Until, that is, Cody Eakin was called for a crosscheck.
The hit came off a faceoff in the Golden Knights’ zone. With Pavelski winning the draw, Eakin delivered a crosscheck to Pavelski’s chest. The Sharks captain was thrown backwards and into the path of Vegas forward Paul Stastny. The collision twisted Pavelski’s body, sending his legs twisting to the right and his head to the ice. He landed awkwardly, the bulk of his weight coming down on his shoulder and head.
Pavelski was motionless on the ice. A whistle stopped play, but no arms were in the air to signal a penalty.
After the officials huddled, Eakin was sent off with a five minute major penalty for cross-checking along with a game misconduct.
While there may have been no initial call from referees Eric Furlatt or Dan O’Halloran, it is possible that the linesmen reported the play.
Per Rule 32.4:
Reporting to Referee – The Linesman shall give to the Referees his interpretation of any incident that may have taken place during the game.
The Linesman must report upon completion of play, any circumstances pertaining to: Major penalties, Match penalties, Misconduct penalties, Game Misconduct penalties, Abuse of Officials, Physical Abuse of Officials, and Unsportsmanlike Conduct
The NHL Series Supervisor, Don Van Massenhoven, provided a statement on the call after the game.
The referees called a crosschecking penalty for an infraction that caused a significant injury. In their judgment, the infraction and its result merited a major penalty.
The league declined to respond to any follow-up questions, including whether the linesmen advised the referees of the hit.
The cross-checking rule, Rule 59, spells out the available penalties that can be handed out on the ice:
59.1 Cross-checking – The action of using the shaft of the stick between the two hands to forcefully check an opponent.
59.2 Minor Penalty – A minor penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who “cross checks” an opponent.
59.3 Major Penalty – A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who “cross checks” an opponent (see 59.5).
59.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by cross-checking.
59.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – When a major penalty is assessed for cross-checking, an automatic game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on the offending player.
Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant says the referees’ explanation to him on the bench didn’t quite match the action on the ice.
“They said he cross-checked him across the face, and as we all saw, that didn’t happen,” Gallant said. “There was no high-stick that hit him in the face. When Stastny came out, he fell and banged his head on the ice. That’s the unfortunate part of it. It was an awful call. We’ve all seen it. It’s too bad we end up losing because of that because we’re in control of the hockey game.”
Pavelski was helped off the ice. He did not return to the game. The Sharks have not offered an update on his condition.
The Sharks rallied around their injured captain, taking full advantage of the five-minute power play presented to them. San Jose scored four times, completing the comeback and taking the lead.
Though Vegas would tie the game in the closing minute, San Jose won the game – and the series – in overtime, 5-4.
Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault spoke critically of the penalty call after the game.
“To call five minutes for that? It changed the whole outcome of the game,” Marchessault said after the game. “Seriously, what is that? It’s so disappointing. The game’s not even close. It’s 3-0. Call a [two-minute minor]? OK. But a five? For something you don’t even see? You just call the outcome.”
Where does the NHL go from here? Don’t expect Player Safety to levy any additional charges on Eakin, though there’s presumably a chance they wipe the major and game misconduct from his record to reduce future punishment.
There’s also likely to be a rallying cry to have the league review all major penalties and possible ejections, either centrally or by the on-ice officials. A similar rule was implemented at the NCAA College Hockey level, with mixed results.
Much like the reviews themselves, it’s something the league will need to take another look at.