The officials didn't cause the Vegas Golden Knights to lose – they did that all by themselves

The decision to assess a major penalty to Cody Eakin is being blamed for the Golden Knights' Game 7 collapse against the Sharks, but the finger should be pointed back at Vegas, who blew a lead in the game and series en route to its first-round exit.
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The Vegas Golden Knights had a 3-1 lead in their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks and lost three straight games, including Game 6 when they allowed a shorthanded goal in double overtime. But somehow, this is all the fault of referees Eric Furlatt and Dan O’Halloran.

The Vegas Golden Knights had a 3-0 lead with less than 11 minutes left in Game 7, took a major penalty and allowed four power-play goals in a span of four minutes and one second to a team without one of its best offensive players. Not once during that flurry did Vegas coach Gerard Gallant think it might be a good idea to take a timeout. But, damn it, this is on the NHL.

And in overtime of Game 7, Mark Stone, the guy who led the regular season in takeaways and is one of the best two-way players in the NHL, turned the puck over at the defensive blueline and that led to the game- and series-winning goal. But let’s pin this on someone, anyone, other than the guys wearing the white sweaters.

Look, this is a tough one to swallow for a lot of people. Jonathan Marchessault’s frustration is understandable. But if you cheer for Vegas and you want to go after the NHL, remember a few things. One, that it was the NHL that created the expansion rules that allowed your team to be in the playoffs in the first place. Two, there didn’t seem to be much of a problem with those officials or the NHL when they ruled that Cody Eakin’s stick was beneath the crossbar when he tipped in Brayden McNabb’s shot from the point. That was a close call that could have gone either way. Three, the cross-checking call was one that could have been a minor, could have been a major, and it was judged to be a major by human beings who had one look at the play in real time.

If you want to direct your ire at the NHL, and you’d have this writer’s full support on this, go at the league for allowing the cross-check to become a hockey play. Despite the fact that it’s a penalty in the rulebook, cross-checking has become what slashing was a couple of years ago: an acceptable way to stop an opponent. Just ask any forward who has to take double-digit whacks to the back every game if he chooses to plant himself in the slot.

The rulebook is very clear on this. Under Rule 59, which governs cross-checking, “a major penalty, at the discretion of the referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who cross-checks an opponent.” There are those who think this was all the result of an unfortunate accident. If that’s the case, can someone please explain exactly what about Eakin’s cross-check was accidental? Did Joe Pavelski fall awkwardly? Of course he did…because he was cross-checked off the faceoff when he wasn’t expecting it.

Because hockey culture sees this as a hockey play, Eakin goes into that faceoff thinking that if he loses the draw, it will be perfectly OK to hit Pavelski. And that’s exactly what happens. And Pavelski goes down awkwardly after he’s run into by Paul Stastny. Seems as though that would meet the requirements of being a severe enough cross-check to warrant a major penalty. If the league actually starts calling cross-checking more, perhaps Eakin goes into that faceoff circle with a different mindset. Perhaps he thinks to himself, “Hey, if I lose this draw, maybe I should try to defend with body position instead of driving the shaft of my stick into the midsection of the guy who won the draw.”

This will undoubtedly spur the league into seriously looking at whether or not the referees should have access to video review for calls such as this one. They have it in college hockey and, as a result, the call is made definitively every time. They also stretch the game out and create the impression that everything is under review. Have it one way or the other and live with the consequences. That’s fine, and it’s probably worth examining.

But what would be the real shame here is if either or both of Furlatt and O’Halloran don’t move onto the next round of the playoffs solely because of this call. There’s a reason those two guys were working Game 7. It’s because they’re among the best referees in the NHL. The Vegas Golden Knights did not lose because of the officials. They did that all by themselves.

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