In last night’s game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks, a miscarriage of justice took place that sent Columbus coach John Tortorella into one of his classic curse rants in the post-game press conference. I won’t directly quote what Torts said in the presser, and I won’t mention the names of any referees involved, but I do have something to say about this unfortunate incident that seems to have cost Columbus both the game and, at least for the time being, their goaltender. More on that later.
The situation that took place had to do with the game clock running down from 18.9 seconds to 18.1 seconds remaining in the overtime period after the play had been blown dead (according to Torts, the play was actually stopped with just over 19 seconds remaining, so a full 1.1 seconds should have been put back on the clock). Since this took place just as Chicago was being assessed a too many men on the ice penalty, the Blue Jackets obviously wanted every second that was due to them to try and score on their ensuing power play. Unfortunately for them (at least according to Tortorella), the referees refused to reset the clock, and the league also didn’t step in to correct the error.
While a misplaced fraction of a second here and there would usually be of little consequence, as luck would have it in this game, Columbus defenceman Zach Werenski scored a goal just a fraction of a second after the final horn sounded to end the overtime period—a goal that should have won them the game (and definitely seemed to have come within the window of time that should have been put back on the clock before the puck was dropped). To add insult to injury (or perhaps the other way around), Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was injured in the ensuing shootout while trying to stop Jonathan Toews’ scoring attempt—an attempt that never should have happened in the first place.
Now, I am no great fan of either of these teams, but I find it especially distasteful when an injustice such as this occurs—particularly when it is well within the referee’s power to prevent it. If Torts is to be taken at his word (and I believe that he is in this case), one of the refs told Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno that they would not add the missing time back onto the clock. We have all seen referees add time to the game clock in similar circumstances when it wasn’t stopped in time with the whistle, so we know they’re allowed to do it, yet it wasn’t done in this case, and doesn’t even seem to have been considered.
The main issue I have with a situation like this is that the referees seem not to want to be overruled by today’s technology or the league’s off-ice officials. But why have technology such as video replay at all—as well as provision for using it, if you’re just going to refuse to even check? It seems to me that referees sometimes allow their egos to get in the way of properly and impartially doing their jobs, and this is a significant problem that must be overcome before the post-season begins.
In last year’s playoffs we saw several incidents of blown calls that (in some cases) cost teams games and even entire series. There was the phantom high sticking call from game 7 of the first round series between the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights that allowed the Sharks to storm back and take the series on the pure adrenaline rush that came from thinking their captain (Joe Pavelski) had legitimately been viciously attacked.
This incident not only resulted in the NHL actually apologizing to the Golden Knights for the travesty, but it also led to the complete overhaul of the use of video replay during the off season. While video replay was not available to referees at the time of the infamous Sharks/Knights blown call, officials are now permitted to review the video on plays where they intend to call a major penalty (to make sure they’re getting it right).
I also recall an overtime hand pass leading to an Erik Karlsson goal that resulted in San Jose getting an early series win against the St. Louis Blues in their Conference Finals series last season, but I digress. The bottom line here is that NHL referees have many tools at their disposal with which to make the right call in almost any given situation. They simply need to set their egos aside and allow the technology (and off-ice officials) to overrule them whenever circumstances dictate.