ST. LOUIS — It’s been a long time since Mario Lemieux called the NHL a “garage league.”
No matter how long, things haven’t changed all that much.
Last night’s loss by the Blues at Enterprise Center was the kind that might propel a team to a championship. If it does, this year’s winner will have their name inscribed on the Stanley Cup:
The S*n Jose Sh*rks.
That’s one asterisk for each of the gift calls that have given the Sharks playoff wins.
(Note – That was what flowed out of my head after the latest NHL officiating flub. Like most of us, I’ve moved away from the immediate moment and have some new thoughts from a 30,000-foot view. But for now, back to the vent…)
Before we (hand) pass over that huge gaffe that the NHL seems to churn out on an assembly line, let’s remind you that a questionable call that gave the Sharks four power play goals in their game 7 win over the Golden Knights in the opening round.
The call that the league apologized for well after the fact. Oops, we goofed. Enjoy your summer, Vegas.
So now we move to the latest sucker punch we in St. Louis have had to take.
We’re in overtime, there are four officials nearby, and not one of them saw Timo Meier swat the puck away from the Blues and into an open area where two of his teammates were poised in front of Jordan Binnington? Aren’t they supposed to be watching the puck? What were they watching?
Don’t they know beer sales end by that time? There’s not a vendor to flag down for a refreshment.
Broadcaster Joe Micheletti was at least a hundred feet and several levels above the play and it took him about a tenth of a second to say that it was definitely a hand pass. The NBC replays – from every angle – clearly show Meier directing the puck and not bringing it down to the ice to play it.
The Sharks then got off the ice fast – they knew they were getting away with something.
The Blues lingered as if reason might show up and save the day.
Reason was not allowed in. What the Blues were left with was a lot of anger, a smashed stick or two against the glass, and a lot of “no comments” in the locker room.
Winger David Perron, who had a game that should be remembered but now won’t, could barely contain his disgust when he said the Blues will leave it to the league office, “who will handle it like they’ve done during the playoffs.” The captain, Alex Pietrangelo got in a quick barb about there being two sets of rules before he stopped short.
The more important question to ask Gary Bettman’s bunch is, Why wasn’t that play reviewed in Toronto?
The league answer is because it’s a non-reviewable call.
Where have we heard that one before? New Orleans Saints, got any thoughts on that?
Once again, we’re in a situation where a no-call/non-reviewable call has decided a playoff game.
How in the name of Clarence Campbell can you review offsides that might lead to a goal and not review actual goals being scored? In the playoffs, no less.
Remember the good old days before replay was instituted? St. Louis Cardinals, you know where I’m coming from so say it with me – Don Denkinger.
That was in 1985 – seven years before Lemieux’s “garage league” comment.
Here’s the problem, to me: When we didn’t have instant replay we complained we should have it so that officiating blunders would never happen again.
But now we do have replay, and the travesties go on.
They will always go on.
Why, you ask? Because it’s a simple matter that humans are involved no matter the process – and humans aren’t perfect. So Major League Baseball could come out today and take advantage of the headline screw job the Blues got and say they’re instituting Robo-umps, but that won’t solve anything. Again, because the human element would still be present.
There is no perfect system.
Yet the league has it on them to do more than want to be a premier league and then trip over their own feet time and time again. Apologize – not in a statement, but with a real face and real spoken words: “We screwed up. We as a league apologize for an obvious oversight.” And then move it forward, Gary Bettman – don’t put it on the general managers to vote in changes to their replay system – mandate it that all goals in the playoffs be reviewed if you have to. Put some teeth in your change for the sake of the game.
Get the game out of the garage.
(And now, today’s perspective…)
The Blues said all the right things tonight by not saying anything about the sucker punch they were handed.
Coach Craig Berube did what any good coach would do – and he is proving to be a great coach – he’s moving his team forward. He was blunt and honest in saying that it should never have gotten to that point – they should have won it in regulation. He matter-of-factly stated that one of the icing calls against his captain shouldn’t have happened – there was enough time and space for Petro to carry the puck up the ice. That’s a good coach: being honest, holding the players accountable, correcting errors, and then moving forward and not dwelling on what you can’t change. As a fan, you have to appreciate that.
Let everyone else do the bellyaching. Get the players focused the next game – and only on winning the next game.
There is still a lot of series yet to be played, and it seems this team responds every time poor performance or adversity tries to get in the way.
This, to paraphrase Ed Harris in Apollo 13, could be their finest hour.
Sunk in last place, goaltending a major flaw? Find Binnington.
Way out of the playoff race? Win 11 in a row and make the playoffs.
Fall behind in front of a raucous crowd in Winnipeg? Pull off the Manitoba Miracle.
Look like they’re running out of gas against Dallas and then raise their game another level against Dallas? Win in Game Six on the road and then outlast the Stars in Game Seven.
But how – HOW? – do you get past last night’s remarkable rally that got ‘em nothing in the end, the nineteen minutes and change of preserving that lead, only to let in a sixth attacker goal and then lose in overtime? How do you get past the likely loss of defenseman Vince Dunn, who was a growing force until he got hit in the face with a shot last night? The Sharks are talented, tough, playoff tested, and the best opponent the Blues have faced so far.
Plain and simple: Force of will.
And now this is where the impact of Craig Berube’s hiring will go on display.
Remember how the leadership was questioned back when Mike Yeo was dangling by a thread and ultimately fired? How the players (again) said Yeo’s dismissal was on them? How G.M. Doug Armstrong agreed?
Is anyone questioning the leadership now?
As for Dunn, those of us of a certain age remember Trent Green going down and Rams coach Dick Vermeil defiantly saying, “We will rally behind Kurt Warner and we will play good football.” Carl Gunnarsson may not have the same ring but the point is the same.
A really good coach will push the right emotional button and will his team to another level. Anyone following the meteoric rise of the Blues since January knows that Berube has consistently pushed the right buttons, inserted the right players, and nudged them forward by sheer force of will.
Game Four on Friday night will be the latest true test of resilience. Maybe their finest hour.
Don’t go engraving the S*n Jose Sha*rks on the Stanley Cup just yet.
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