BOSTON — The story of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals was the Boston Bruins’ second-half surge, overcoming an early two-goal deficit for a dominant 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. It was the Bruins’ role players — fourth-line center Sean Kuraly and third-pair defenseman Connor Clifton — rising to the occasion, and it was the Blues’ lack of discipline letting the lead slip away. But outside of some mild gripes from St. Louis’s locker room about the number of whistles, officiating largely stayed out of the spotlight for one night these playoffs, a relief after a postseason marked by blunders.
The limits of the NHL’s video review system have been called into question so much that Commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t even wait for questions to address it during his state-of-the-league briefing Monday. He said expanding video review will be discussed during the general managers meetings, at the NHL draft in Vancouver next month. Currently, only goals can be reviewed — either through a coach’s challenge or the NHL’s situation room in Toronto.
“Clearly what we already do still may not be enough,” Bettman said. “The ability to review and parse plays down to the millisecond has become both a blessing and a curse. If we are to extend video replay, and we will be looking at that possibility, we must find the right balance when it comes to how much more to use and when to use it without affecting the flow, pace and excitement of our game. Perhaps most important, we’ve got to have a system that enables us to be consistent. This is the challenge, and it’s a challenge we are focused on and we will meet.”
In the third period of Game 7 between the Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks in the first round, Cody Eakin was assessed a five-minute major for cross-checking San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who suffered a concussion after his head hit the ice on the play. But while the result was unfortunate, the action itself wasn’t worthy of a major penalty; the NHL later issued an apology to Vegas. The Sharks scored four goals during the five-minute power play, suddenly turning a three-goal deficit into a one-goal lead. The Golden Knights tied it to force overtime, but San Jose prevailed, sparking calls for referees to be able to review major penalties.
Then in overtime of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals between the Sharks and Blues, San Jose’s Timo Meier batted the puck with his hand, a hand pass that four officials missed, and it resulted in the game-winning goal. A hand pass is not subject to review, so the goal stood.
“What I thought was, it would be good if I kept my head from exploding,” Bettman said. “I was unhappy. We all were. If you ask the officials on the ice, they weren’t happy. … It was unfortunate, to say the least. It was clearly a missed call and it led to a goal. You don’t ever want to see a game decided like that.”
At issue is if the quality of the game would be hurt more by long stoppages for reviews. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league would like to keep the average game in the 2-hour, 30-minute range, and more opportunities for replay could affect that. During Sunday’s Stanley Cup media day, Bruins forward Brad Marchand suggested a different solution: doing away with video review entirely.
“That’s the problem, when you start bringing in all of the video reviews,” Marchand said. “The refs are getting crucified. They’re out there to do a job. You start taking it away from them little by little, then it’s going to escalate. Now they’re going to want video review for pucks hitting the net or hand passes, so how much are you going to take away from the refs?
“The only way to do it is to do everything video review or none of it. I don’t really care either way, but just pick one. You’re in between right now.”
Bettman didn’t seem to have the appetite for that. “I don’t think you can go backward anymore,” he said. The NHL’s current video review system has evolved after some early bumps; goaltender interference calls are often subjective, and after complaints about inconsistency, the league moved to give its situation room the final call after consulting with the on-ice official and available replays. On the other end of the spectrum, offsides is controversial in that it occasionally comes down to inches, perhaps getting away from the spirit of the rule.
“It’s not as simple as saying, just review everything, because the essential element — the excitement, the flow of our game — would be inalterably interrupted if we reviewed everything,” Bettman said. “Everybody has got an opinion on this, and I respect that, and we want lots of input, but it’s not as easy as it looks.”
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