Photo: Ezra Shaw (Getty)

Let’s get this out of the way right at the outset: Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights could have avoided all of this controversy—and their elimination—by simply not allowing allowing four goals in 4:01. One of the weirdest and wildest comebacks in recent memory, a Game 7 eventually won by the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, did not have to hinge on a questionable call. After the call, the Knights could have nullified things by just not being the second team in NHL history to give up four goals on a single power play. But they did, and so the call matters very much in retrospect, and Vegas will be stewing over it for a long, long time.

Jonathan Marchessault repeated a reporter’s question. “Was it stolen? Yeah. It was 3-0.”

It was a 3-0 Vegas lead, with 10:47 left to play in the third period. That’s when Cody Eakin checked Joe Pavelski across the chest, sending him stumbling backward into Paul Stastny and falling awkwardly to the ice. He hit his head and appeared to lose consciousness, blood dripping onto the ice.

A truly scary moment, and now, in Sharks lore, an emotional and inspirational one. “It almost made you cry,” Joe Thornton said. “We love him so much. You never want to see a teammate get hurt like that. It’s a tough break for him. So you hold him as hard you can, get him off the ice and get him better ... The boys, they got together and said, this is for Pavs.” (The Sharks have not yet issued a medical update on Pavelski.)

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But from the other dressing room, the call was a travesty. Marchessault:

“I really hope Joe Pavelski is OK. You never want to see something bad like that happen. But it’s a fucking joke To call five minutes for that? It changed the whole outcome of the game. Like, seriously, what is that? It’s so disappointing. The game’s not even close. It’s 3-0. Call a two? OK. But a five? For something you don’t even see? You just call the outcome. It’s a fucking joke. It’s embarrassing. That’s what it is.”

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At issue was how and when the five-minute major and game misconduct were called, and Marchessault has a point: The officials on the ice didn’t appear to see the hit, or least didn’t think it was whistle-worthy until they noticed how badly Pavelski was hurt. The video above makes clear that no penalty was signaled for until well after the hit, when Pavelski was already down and out. To make matters worse, Knights coach Gerard Gallant said the refs explained to him on the ice that Eakin had checked Pavelski in the face, “and as we all saw, that didn’t happen.”

After the game, series officiating supervisor Don VanMassenhoven issued a statement on the call: “The referees called a cross-checking penalty for an infraction that caused a significant injury. In their judgment, the infraction and its result merited a major penalty.”

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And so the Sharks reeled off four quick goals in insane succession, Marchessault got one back for Vegas with 47 seconds left in regulation to put off summer vacation just a little longer, and then Barclay Goodrow sent the Sharks to the second round and a date with Colorado with his goal at 18:19 of overtime. A brutal game in a brutal series for the Golden Knights, who less than a week ago were up 3-1 in the series and looked like world-beaters.

“Last year we were in the Stanley Cup finals and it was tough to lose,” Gallant said. “Tonight was tougher than that.”

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Marchessault? Still angry.

They called a bad call, and look where we are. Summer’s starting, fucking five months now until game one when the regular season starts. It’s awful. You think we were ready to get our summer going here? We’re a great team. It’s unbelievable.”