Let me begin this with a disclaimer. Those of you who know me, or who follow me on Twitter (@hildymac) know that I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don't think that the NHL hates the Blues (though have I said some variation of "God hates the Blues?" Yes. Haven't we all?), nor do I think there's some grand scheme going on in the War Room in Toronto to gift this series to the Blackhawks. I honestly think that there's more of a chance that the Blues gift the series to the Hawks through lack of scoring and losing focus.
Do I think that there's an unconscious bias toward the Blackhawks? Absolutely - they're the defending champions, they have a massive viewing area and fanbase, which helps NBCSN's ratings, and they sell a hell of a lot of merchandise. Can some things trickle into the subconsciousness of the refs or the officials up in Toronto? I won't discount that, but I won't say it's true, either. Short of giving every NHL official an Implicit Association Test that's been re-tooled for hockey, we'll never know.
Last night's game was a gift to the Blackhawks, regardless of if you think that the officials gifted them the game or if you think the Blues did. The two calls - the rescinding of Vladimir Tarasenko's goal and allowing Shaw's - shifted the momentum of the game and probably the series squarely to the Blackhawks.
First up, Tarasenko's goal:
The debate here, as we all know, is over Jori Lehtera and if he was off-side or not. After a nearly five-minute review (which is pretty damned inexcusable), the officials determined that Lehtera was off-side according to rule 83.1:
"To be honest, this was one of the closest ones we've had," Whitmore said. "You're looking at a puck -- not just when it enters the zone. You're actually looking at when the skate comes off the ice and if it stays on the ice when the puck enters the zone.
"So there was two different things. It wasn't just - we always have ones where the skate's in the air, and that's difficult enough - but this was one, where's the puck? And the puck is coming just at the split second, so the two things were going hand in hand, and you try to look at reverse angles -- some were a little bit clearer than others -- and you try to make sure that you can determine that the skate was in the air, and the linesmen both determined that that was the right call."
Fair enough. However, here is rule 83.1:
Off-side - Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone.
The position of the player’s skates and not that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play.
A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line regardless of the position of his stick. However, a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered "off-side," provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.
It should be noted that while the position of the player’s skates is what determines whether a player is "off-side," nevertheless the question of an "off-side" never arises until the puck has completely crossed the leading edge of the blue line at which time the decision is to be made.
It boiled down to where the puck was, since it was clear Lehtera's skates weren't in contact with the blue line, nor was he on the right side of it. Where is the puck? Was it conclusive that Lehtera crossed the line before the puck did? If it's not conclusive, then there's not enough evidence to overturn the call on the ice - therefore the goal stands. What constitutes conclusive evidence is the refs staring at a tablet the size of a Kindle and saying "yeah, that's conclusive."
"Offsides is offsides; that’s cut and dry," winger Ryan Reaves said. "I thought (there) was goalie interference. The refs saw it differently."
That goes to the second play, the one that was probably more debatable: Andrew Shaw's go-ahead goal.
ou could still argue if, after two video reviews, it was or was not goalie interference. Here's the league's justification:
They watched it from start to finish in real speed, then slowed down. They watched the overhead shot.
Then, once more.
"What I felt I'd seen originally was pretty much confirmed on the overhead, that Shaw, he gets it with his hand, then reaches out after it goes off the side, makes a play on the puck," O'Rourke said. "The contact is after the puck goes in, and it's also with the help of [Blues defenseman Kevin] Shattenkirk pushing him.
"That's how I felt I saw it on the ice, then also what was confirmed by the overall play at full speed, and then also the overhead really helped."
They felt that Elliott could do his job, that the contact came after the puck had crossed the goal line.
It boiled down to Shattenkirk's contact with Shaw and the timing of the puck crossing the goal line. Personally, to me at least, it looked like Brian Elliott was prevented from doing his job before the puck crossed the goal line, but just as with the off-side call, if viewing the replay is inconclusive, then the call on the ice stands. If you argue that for the off-side, then you have to argue that for the goal, I suppose.
Did the Blues get intentionally jobbed by the refs? No. Were both calls questionable? Sure, because I'm not sure if you can conclusively tell squat about either. The fact that both reviews took nearly five minutes a piece raises questions about how conclusively the refs could view the replays. If you base this off of conclusiveness, both goals should've counted.
The issue here then becomes what do you do now that game two is in the books? Do you pick up the pieces, move on to game three in Chicago, and win? Or do you let the situation last night get into your head and influence how you play game three? Many on Twitter concluded (myself included, to a degree) that this was basically game-set-match for the Blues. Why? Because if the past has taught us anything, this team's "mental toughness" is just not there in the playoffs. Already, in this quote from Ken Hitchcock, you can see problems creeping in.
"There’s a lot of things that go (your way) when you’re the defending Cup champions, that’s just the way it is," Hitchcock said. "They’ve got a lot of information on how to win, and there’s other elements there we’re going to have to fight through. If we’re going to beat them, we’re going to have to be better in a lot of elements and know calls aren’t going to go our way."
Clarifying his statements with a baseball metaphor ("the tie goes to the runner"), Hitchcock can speak from experience on the matter – he won a Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. Which means he also knows what it’s going to take to overcome all the perceived obstacles in St. Louis’ path to the second round.
"We’re going to have to (dig) deeper than even we realized," he said. "We did play better (tonight). But we’re going to have to go into the blue area...and find second and third opportunities. We’re going to have to dig deeper than any (players) or any coaches have ever dug because we’re not just playing a playoff team; we’re playing a champion. That’s just how it is.
"We’re not dealing with unemotional people. We’re upset, but we’re not going to let it get in the way."
Right off the bat, he chalks the calls up to who the Blackhawks are, and makes the conclusion that they'll get the calls because they're the defending champs. These "other elements" he speaks of are more than likely the officiating crew and the league. Yes, there's something to be said for outplaying the refs, which is what he's insinuating the Blues have to do here - and is something that I've said the team needs to do before after some pretty incompetent calls (and these weren't the only two bad calls all night).
However, you can't say that anything in this game - or even imply things in this game - are in the hands of people other than your own players. It's one thing for fans to have a bit of a victim mentality - God knows we've been conditioned to feel that way - but the coaches shouldn't encourage that mentality in their players, not even a bit. They shouldn't harbor that mentality themselves.
If the Blues lose, it'll be because they couldn't put last night behind them. It will also be, just like the last five seasons, because they won't be able to hit the broad side of the barn. Scoring issues that came and went all season long tend to arise in the playoffs. When you're even concerned a little bit with outside factors, the emphasis on fixing the fact that your team just cannot score goals in the postseason dwindles.
You can't wipe your brain clean after every game. Frustrations with last night will remain tomorrow, and past history has shown us that the Blues are not good at dealing with frustration. If they lose this series, it will be on how they deal with the decisions of the on-ice officials, not with the officials themselves.