The Sharks watched, amused, as some rough officiating in the first round led to their improbable Game 7 comeback, and as the league quietly apologized to the still-salty Golden Knights. Not that it did Vegas any good; they’re still golfing. (The Sharks’ general reaction to that kerfuffle could be summed up in this tweet from the team account.) So it was going to be interesting to see how San Jose would react to a questionable call that went against them in Round 2, which set up an Avalanche goal en route to a 4-3 Colorado win and a series knotted at one. Would they grumble over the call when the skate was on the other foot? Would they specifically reference Vegas’s grievance? Reader, they absolutely would.
Late in the second with the game tied, Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov lofted a puck down the ice that the Sharks expected was going to be called icing. But Mikko Rantanen hustled after it, and if he didn’t quite beat Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the puck, it was at least close enough for the linesman not to blow the play dead. The Sharks, anticipating a whistle, seemed to back off for a second, allowing Rantanen to set up Gabriel Landeskog for a shot on the doorstep, and Tyson Barrie fired home the rebound for a lead Colorado would never relinquish.
As with last series’ officiating controversy, the burden remains on the aggrieved team not to, you know, completely fall apart on the ice. No matter the rightness or wrongness of the call, the Sharks messed up by assuming the icing instead of continuing to play through the anticipated whistle. That’s the tack coach Pete DeBoer took when asked if he thought icing should have been called.
“Whether I thought it was doesn’t matter,” he said. “The players did and they let up, they relaxed for a minute, it obviously wasn’t, so it’s I guess a lesson, and that is don’t assume anything is in the playoffs, play and make sure.”
That seems like the right attitude. But should it have been an icing? That’s tougher to answer. Starting in 2013, the NHL went from touch icing to hybrid icing, which doesn’t require a player to touch the puck for the whistle to blow. Instead, it’s up to the linesman to determine whether the defending player would get there first, and to blow the whistle before that actually happens. This was done to eliminate potentially dangerous collisions as opposing players raced to touch up first, but the obvious side effect is that the plays most likely to result in collisions are the closest calls: the 50-50s. Icing, except for the most obvious examples of it, is a judgment call.
This was pretty damned close, and while Vlasic did appear to touch the puck first, that wasn’t inevitable, not with Rantanen coming in with the head of steam he had. “I just tried to beat the D and run the puck down,” Rantanen said. “[It was a] 50-50 puck and they didn’t whistle it down so it was good for us.”
Vlasic, however, planted his tongue firmly in cheek.