SAN JOSE – You could point to a couple of reasons why the Sharks lost the second game of their best-of-seven first-round matchup against the Golden Knights, but the controversial goalie interference call early in the second period was perhaps the biggest turning point of the entire contest.
Not surprisingly, the two teams are split on how everything unfolded and whether the officials made the right call.
At roughly 51 seconds into the second period with the scoreboard knotted up 3-3, Marc-Andre Fleury came out of the crease to defend a shot from Brent Burns, which Logan Couture appeared to tip into Vegas' net. But the goal was almost instantly waived off, with the ref calling goaltender interference on Couture before sending him to the box to serve a two-minute minor.
Instead of the Sharks going up 4-3 on Couture's tip-in, the Knights converted on the ensuing power play less than a minute later on their way to a 5-3 victory.
Here's where some explanation is necessary. According to NHL Rule 69.4:
"If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed. A goalkeeper is not "fair game" just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper."
The issue of whether the "appropriate penalty was assessed" is where things get messy.
When Sharks' head coach Peter DeBoer discussed what he referred to as a "devastating" call, he argued that Couture should not have been penalized and that San Jose should have been able to challenge the ruling on the ice.
"The problem I've got with that is that, for one, (Couture's) entitled to that ice," DeBoer recounted, "and because Fleury is outside the crease and he's just going to that area outside the crease there's no intent at all to run into Fleury.
"The travesty of the call is that if they had called it goalie interference, we could have challenged it," he continued. "I think the league would've recognized Fleury was outside the crease, probably would have awarded us a goal and we're up 4-3 at that time and it's a different game. But it's a two-goal swing, because he calls the penalty, even though there's zero intent to hit Fleury and Fleury's outside the area he should be."
Members of the Sharks agreed, not holding back that they thought Fleury was too far outside of the paint for Couture to avoid him.
"They do a lot of complaining about Fleury and the traffic in front," Evander Kane said. "But, when you're exiting the blue paint three extra feet, it makes it awful tough as an opposition to try and stay away from him without battling a d-man in front of the net. So, it was a pretty good reaction by [Fleury] and he tricked us. Tricked them."
It probably doesn't help that the players don't think there is much consistency in enforcing the rule. "I was under the impression that if it was outside the blue, it's not goaltender interference," said backup netminder Aaron Dell, who was on the other side of the ice when the call occurred. "It looked like [Couture] barely touched him, from what I could see. I'm not sure what the ref saw on that side, he had a better angle of it. I don't know, it's just been kind of murky on the consistency on that one."
Knights' head coach Gerard Gallant, on the other hand, saw something very different from where he was standing behind Vegas' bench.
"(Couture) hit him in the head," Gallant said to the press after the game, using the word "awesome" in reference to the call. "(Fleury) tried to play the puck, he's defending his goal. He's trying to play the puck, and the guy skates through the blue paint and bumps him in the head. So, to me, it's pretty obvious. I don't know what they're saying over there, but did you guys see? Did you guys see it? I mean, it's pretty obvious to me."
Fleury had his own view of the play when asked about it after the game. "I didn't have much of a view, it was just somebody in my face," the netminder said. "I don't know. I was looking at the puck, and then I couldn't move to my right because he was there and that's where the puck was going. I'm glad the ref made a call."
The results of the call put Vegas in a position to take back the momentum of the game. Even though San Jose had four opportunities on the power play after that, they weren't able to add to their score. Although the Sharks could have tied the contest back up, it's hard to ignore the turning point less than a minute into the second period.
"That one call is a two-goal swing in the game and it's devastating for our group," DeBoer said. "It's a shame."