It’s a crazy league, full of calls and non-calls that keep us all shaking our heads.
One on hand, Connor McDavid can play eight playoff games without drawing a single penalty. He wears the opposition like a cloak, but nada.
Then you get a game like the one played in Denver on Wednesday night, where a playoff game is decided on a player slashing the stick out of another player’s hands.
That was the contentious moment in a fabulous hockey game played at break-neck speed as the Vegas Golden Knights thoroughly outplayed the Colorado Avalanche, but lost 3-2 in overtime on a power-play goal with Reilly Smith in the box for slashing the stick out of Mikko Rantanen’s hands off a faceoff.
Rantanen scored the game-winning goal, likely with the same twig, as Smith didn’t break it. He just caused Rantanen to drop it, and the power play awarded was the power play that ended Game 2.
“Just a soft call,” observed a sour Peter DeBoer, the Vegas head coach whose club is now behind the favoured Avalanche by a 2-0 count. “I can’t even blame the refs. They’re fighting through the embellishment of grabbing your face, falling down, dropping your stick every period.
“I can’t even blame the referee. They fooled him on it.”
But wait. You’ll never guess the take that the Avalanche had on the call.
“It’s just all over the league. That’s the call. If you slash the other guys stick out of his hands, or break the stick, it’s always a penalty,” reasoned Rantanen. “I’m a pretty strong guy. I can hang on to my stick, but that was a strong slash.
“I’m trying to get out to the point,” he said. “I don’t think I would purposely drop my stick in the D-zone. Who does that?”
Truly, the slashed-stick drop has become almost as automatic as the puck-over-the-glass call. When the stick is broken, the call is even easier. When it is simply dropped, however, it leaves room for interpretation.
“It’s a stick battle off a faceoff,” said Vegas captain Mark Stone. “There are probably 30 of those a game, and I get my stick slashed almost in every one. It’s a tough call, especially in overtime. There has to be a little bit of onus on the guy to hold on to his stick.”
“It’s an easy one to call, for me,” countered Colorado coach Jared Bednar. “He didn’t have to do it. If Mikko is going out to cover the point, and he knocks the stick out of his hands, it could end up in our net. (Makar) is a skilled D-man, and it would create a chance going the other way.
“I don’t know, if we’re going out to that point without a stick, we’re in trouble.”
Colorado should have been in trouble in a game the Golden Knights took over after the first intermission. After losing the opener by a 7-1 score, it was highway robbery that the Avalanche even stretched the game to OT, outshot 41-25 by a Vegas team that also hit four posts on the night.
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What was the difference in the Golden Knights’ game?
“The difference was, we didn’t play a Game 7 48 hours earlier, and travel,” deadpanned DeBoer, whose team had one day off between their series-clinching win vs. the Minnesota Wild in Round 1 and the Round 2 opener. “We feel good about our game. After Game 1 we were out to prove that we can play with this team. We did that tonight. This series is a long ways from over.”
“We’re planning on making it a long series.”
Colorado’s top line was dynamite again in Game 2, especially with the man advantage.
If Vegas is going to climb back into this series they’ll need more from their producers. Alex Pietrangelo, Alex Tuch and Stone each went pointless in Denver.
Game 3 goes Friday night in Vegas.