With a Stanley Cup finals record four lead changes, Monday’s Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena featured more plot twists than “Ocean’s Eleven.” The final turning point in the Vegas Golden Knights’ 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals came on a goal early in the third period that probably shouldn’t have counted.
Ninety-one seconds after Marc-Andre Fleury kicked Tom Wilson’s redirected shot into his own net to give Washington a 4-3 lead, Vegas fourth-liner Ryan Reaves tied the game with his second goal of the playoffs. The only thing filthier than the placement of Reaves’s shot was the blatant cross-check he got away with on John Carlson to create space in front of the net.
Carlson screamed at the officials from the bench after the no-call. Capitals fans screamed at the officials from whence they watched Monday’s game. NBC analyst Mike Milbury was just as livid about Reaves’s goal after Vegas took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It is absolutely ludicrous,” Milbury said on NBC Sports Network’s postgame show. “This is like a receiver in football, pushing down his defensive back in the end zone and catching the touchdown pass by himself. It’s just unforgivable. You’ve got two officials, one you can see right there — make the call. You have to make the call. It’s the turning point in the game. This is just not right at all. If you’re a Washington fan or John Carlson and you think you got bagged, you did. You got sandbagged right here. He’s got every right to be this angry at officials who missed it.”
Shortly after the goal, NBC’s cameras showed Reaves sitting on the bench and singing along to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” during a stoppage in play.
“I’d be singing hi-dee hi-dee-ho if I got that kind of break,” Milbury said. “That ticked me off. That was unforgivable from the officials. Unforgivable.”
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz didn’t say much about Reaves’s game-tying goal, but he said enough.
“I didn’t like the fourth goal,” Trotz said. “I thought we were going on the power play there.”
Reaves’s cross-check was a hot topic on the NBC Sports Washington postgame show, too.
“I think the refs were too scared to call a penalty on the guy,” analyst Alan May said.
“This is such a clear play, right in the middle of all the action,” host Rob Carlin said. “Carlson goes down, and Reaves scores. There’s just no way they could say they missed that. All eyes in the arena are on that play.”
“The ref right on the goal line right there, he’s the guy that has to make that call, and in this game, he wasn’t going to do that,” May said of Marc Joannette. “We’ve seen this from him in the past. The Caps have every right to be upset about that. That’s a legitimate penalty in any game, against any player.”
Craig Laughlin suggested the referees didn’t want to face the wrath of the home crowd by taking a goal away from the Golden Knights.
“Definitely a two-minute minor,” Laughlin said. “It doesn’t get any easier of a call for a referee than this. It wasn’t a push-off. Push-offs they allow. It’s a cross-check across the numbers.”
Fellow NBC Sports Washington analyst and former Capitals goalie Brent Johnson wished Carlson had taken a different defensive approach against Reaves.
“I want to see John Carlson go right in there and not put his back to Reaves,” he said. “Go right in and take the stick right away. Then you’re not going to get anything in the back, and you’re going to be the one enforcing the play. Now, yes, [Reaves] was trying to cause separation. Maybe the refs saw it as Carlson went down a little easy. I don’t know. But, you know, at a point in time like that, they’re not going to make a call, especially with Reaves being right on the doorstep ready to whack it in.”
Meanwhile, Frank Provenzano, former assistant general manager of the Capitals and Dallas Stars, criticized Monday’s officiating on Twitter and suggested the group of officials from Game 1 “needs to be replaced.”
Two weeks from now, Reaves’s controversial game-tying goal could be a minor footnote in a series that Washington came back to win. His cross-check on Carlson is also the type of no-call that Capitals fans could be griping about for years, and with good reason.
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