The San Jose Sharks are in the second round of the playoffs, and it’s mostly because of a third-period Cody Eakin major penalty. In the Golden Knights–Sharks Game 7 on Tuesday, Eakin crossed-checked Sharks forward Joe Pavelski on a face-off with Vegas leading 3-0 and 10 minutes remaining. Pavelski hit his head on the ice and started bleeding. It was a scary scene, and it led to a five-minute Sharks power play on which they scored four goals to set up an eventual 5-4 win.
The general consensus outside of San Jose is that this fairly routine play from Eakin should have been a minor penalty at most, and the only reason for the severe punishment is the intensity of the damage it inadvertently caused. That viewpoint is backed up by the fact that, as you can see in the full video, neither referee Eric Furlatt nor Dan O’Halloran raised a hand to signal a penalty, so they clearly didn’t think it was an infraction until they saw how badly Pavelski was hurt. There isn’t a camera angle available showing the view from the corner where Furlatt was stationed, but here’s what number 13 O’Halloran saw on the play:
After the game, Vegas standout forward Jonathan Marchessault said the game was “stolen” from his team. He added, “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 league must have heard and sympathized with the Golden Knights’ anger, because on Thursday, Vegas GM George McPhee told reporters that the NHL had admitted that the call was wrong, and apologized for it:
“The league did reach out and apologize,” McPhee said. “They made a mistake and I’m sure (the officials) feel bad about it. They want to get things right like we all do when we’re doing our jobs.”
Further evidence of the NHL’s regret is the referee assignments for the second round, which don’t have Furlatt or O’Halloran on them. That means they’re likely done for the year, barring the need for an injury replacement. Furlatt himself has reffed over 1,000 games, but it’s the omission of O’Halloran, specifically, that telegraphs the NHL’s message. The respected veteran official leads all active refs in playoff games officiated, and he’s reffed a conference final every year for over a decade.
None of this really matters to anyone besides Furlatt and O’Halloran, since the Sharks still move on and the Knights are still done no matter how gross anyone may think it is. But the clear frustration the NHL appears to feel about how Game 7 went down perhaps signals some future intensions to prevent other situations like this one. Maybe, like the NFL after the Rams-Saints game, this is the beginning of a hockey world where a coach can challenge anything he wants.