ST. LOUIS - The Blues were calm and measured in their responses despite being on the wrong side of two coach’s challenges and a few questionable calls in Friday night’s 3-2 loss to Chicago.
According to Ken Hitchcock those calls typically go in favor of the defending Stanley Cup Champion and his team will have to fight past those calls, describing it as the “tie goes to the runner.”
“To win this series we are going to have to fight through more than just Chicago,” Hitchcock said. “There are other elements there that we are going to have to fight through. We are going to have to be better in a lot of elements and know that we are going to get calls that aren’t going to go our way.”
While the team didn’t blame the referees directly for the loss, they did acknowledge how the calls caused the momentum to swing in the Blackhawks’ direction.
“It's probably a two-goal swing on challenges,” said a composed David Backes. “But it's still a 1-1 game after the first one. We have to continue to play our game. We end up in the box and with 10 seconds left in the kill, they are able to have some scrums in front and poke one by.
“Overall I think it was a better team game by our guys tonight then it was last night. I've seen that off-sides [call] a million times. We will bite our tongues on it. It was a play where it's a critical time in a game, and you hope that they were 100 percent sure they saw what they saw.”
That’s downplaying the effect. Just past the 12 minute mark in the third Kevin Shattenkirk dumped the puck to Jori Lehtera who skated the puck over the blue line. Then from behind the net he fed a pass to Vladimir Tarasenko as he waited on the doorstep and banged the puck past Corey Crawford. It was Tarasenko’s second goal of the game.
But while the team and the sold out crowd celebrated, the referees announced that Chicago was challenging the play for a potential off-sides. The review took several minutes with the crowd bellowing the Beatles hit ‘Let it Be’ throughout the stands desperate for the 2-1 lead and a potential 2-0 series advantage if the Blues could hold on. As the referees skated to the center line with the verdict, Chris Lee and Dan O’Rourke become St. Louis' Public Enemies numbers 1 and 1.A when they announced the linemen's decision to wave off the goal.
“It was a five or six minute review. I don't know. It felt like forever,” Backes described. “For it to be overturned you figure it was pretty obvious. It was one of those things where it was a critical time in the game and I don't know if it has a ton of impact on the play that scores the goal but that's just the way it is. We are not going to get all the calls and sometimes you are going to get calls you don't like but we have to continue to play and not let that be a lull.”
It’s unclear which part of the rule Lehtera violated. Upon review of the replay there doesn’t appear to be any clear and convincing evidence that the Lehtera’s left skate crosses the line completely before the puck enters the zone. The gray area of the call is if Lehtera’s back skate must be in contact with the ice because it is clearly not touching. Here’s the explanation of the rule. The referees did not speak to a pool reporter following the game.
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. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved. A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with his own side of the line at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line.
“I watched it a couple times and the puck kind of disappears behind Jori and there’s a skate in the air or it’s on the ice or where’s the puck,” Backes said. “When it goes your way, you love it. When it doesn’t go your way, it’s the worst rule created. It’s one of those things where you want it called right. I don’t know if they need the football [way] under the hood.”
The result was brutal, but the Blues continued to fight and were upset with the refs just a few minutes later when no call was made on a trip of Jaden Schwartz. As Chicago skated the puck toward the offensive zone Tarasenko took a bad slashing call that put the Blues on their fifth penalty kill.
Two minutes later Andrew Shaw scored on the power play causing even more controversy. Brian Elliott appealed to the refs that Shaw had made contact with him. The referees conferred and determined it was a goal, but went back to review it when Hitchcock officially challenged the call.
Ultimately he lost and the Blues trailed one goal with under five minutes remaining. Kevin Shattenkirk scored with a second remaining in the game after the Blackhawks put in an empty-netter, but there was no incredible comeback. Just quiet frustration from the St. Louis side.
Afterward Elliott, who at the time was sure he was interfered with, was frustrated with the lack of clarity and enforcement of the goalie interference rule.
“I don’t know what the rule is anymore. Every play is so different,” the goaltender said, exasperated. “It’s up to the refs on the ice who make the call, not one person kind of calling everything. I don’t know what the call is.”
When prodded further about the play Elliott’s response turned on the scrum as he asked, “Do you guys get to ask them [the referees] those questions?” He was genuinely curious and then continued talking, “I don’t know what their thinking was so I can’t really comment on that. I don’t really have any idea of what they saw because I wasn’t there.”
Now the Blues have to put this game in their back pocket. The play next on Sunday in Chicago in an always tough United Center in hopes to steal one or both games with the chance to clinch the series at home. With this lesson learned the club can only focus on what they can control.
“We have to put ourselves in a position where those calls don’t make or break the game. You kind of live and learn. We can’t really do anything about this game so we’ve got to look at the next game and move forward,” Elliott said.