He had control of the puck.
They had control of the series.
Then, in a script that couldn’t have been written in Hollywood – except it actually was – all forms of control were lost.
“We got cheated,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, bluntly. “Simple as that.
“I was told he (the ref) didn’t see the puck lying behind his (Stalock’s) feet the whole time, and that’s why the whistle didn’t blow. But, it’s pretty clear when you look afterwards.
“That was the turning point of the game.”
The turning point that McLellan alluded to, of course, was the madness that ensued shortly after first-time Sharks starting playoff goalie Alex Stalock corralled a side-angle shot from Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr with 8:08 remaining in the third period of a 1-1 contest.
To the Kings, what happened next was clear: Their most clutch playoff scorer, Justin Williams, chipped away and slipped the go-ahead goal past Stalock.
The Sharks had a different take.
It looked like Al had it covered for a little bit of time,” said Joe Thornton. “The coaching staff felt like they just pushed him in the net.”
However, Williams did more than just push Stalock into the net. He also pushed in the puck.
After the controversial goal was allowed to count and put the Kings ahead, 2-1, the Sharks lost all sense of control of the game, and arguably the series.
Within three minutes of Williams’ goal, Anze Kopitar scored twice 1:15 apart to give LA a 4-1 advantage, with the Kings eventually finishing off a disputable victory to tie the best-of-seven series at three wins apiece.
What The NHL Rulebook Says
Before Williams’ goal was officially allowed, the most prevalent question being asked on the ice following the sequence where it appeared Stalock had the puck secured beneath his goaltending paraphernalia was if 13th-year NHL referee Chris Lee had “intended” to blow the whistle.
Lee most certainly didn’t blow the whistle.
But, he may have “intended” to.
The Sharks’ only hope of the goal being disallowed was this hypothesis being arrived at. Rule 31.2 in the NHL rule book states that any goal can be disallowed if it’s determined that the puck crossed the goal line after a referee decides he wants to blow the whistle, before he physically brings the whistle to his mouth and blows.
As there is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play, the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.
In the event of any dispute regarding time or the expiration of penalties, the matter shall be referred to the Referee for adjustment and his decision shall be final. He may use the Video Goal Judge to assist in rendering the final decision.
As the final passage of rule 31.2 allowed him to, Lee consulted with the Video Goal Judge. The remainder of the process is explained in rule 38.1, passage III.
Rule 38.1, Passage III
After viewing the incident he (the Goal Judge) will promptly convey his decision directly to the Referee at the penalty bench. When a play has been referred to the Video Goal Judge, his decision shall be final.
When the Video Goal Judge reviewed the play, he decided that Stalock never had full control of the puck, meaning that the puck was live the whole time. This supported Chris Lee’s decision to not blow the whistle.
And with the on-ice referee not blowing the whistle, Williams had every right to continue to try to jam the puck into the net, as he eventually did.
Thus, the goal stood.
The only way the goal could have been disallowed with the puck being ruled live is if it was determined that in addition to the puck, Williams also physically shoved Stalock over the goal line with the puck, himself, per rule 69.6.
In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and attacking player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.
In the event that a goalkeeper has been pushed into the net together with the puck by an attacking player after making a stop, the goal will be disallowed. If applicable, appropriate penalties will be assessed.
However, with Stalock’s body never crossing the goal line, this rule couldn’t apply. This rule also condones the amount of physical contact between Williams and Stalock, allowing no goalie interference penalty call to be made.
Where San Jose Goes From Here
Whether the goal that won Game 6 for LA “should’ve” counted or not, the fact of the matter is that it “did” count.
And the Sharks have to move past the call quick…eh, better make that “fast.”
Because on Wednesday night, San Jose will host Game 7, where the stakes are clear: Win and move on to face the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, or lose and become only the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose a best-of-seven series.
Without doubt, this series going to a Game 7 isn’t just about what the Sharks have not been able to do.
Although the Kings were significantly aided by a favorable call in Game 6, they have also done a lot right the last few games. This effort has been triggered by a few of LA’s key players, who may be the two most important players the Sharks have to stop in Game 7.
Quick was bombarded by waves of Sharks offense and surrendered 16 goals in the series’ first three games. Since then, he’s transformed from sieve to savior, allowing only a single goal to James Sheppard (below) in the last two games.
Safe to say, Quick has put his early-series struggles behind him, and San Jose will be in an awful lot of trouble in Game 7 if it can’t muster more offense against Quick than it has the last two games.
The most effective way to do this may be to simply get bodies in front of Quick and just throw pucks at the net from everywhere.
Quick has also been victimized in this series when the Sharks have gotten him to move side-to-side; however, odd-man rushes may be scarce with the Kings having cleaned up their act defensively, meaning it may be difficult for San Jose to duplicate the type of chances it got Quick to move side-to-side with earlier in the series.
His controversial game-winner aside, Williams has a tremendous knack for scoring huge playoff goals when his team needs them most.
In fact, he has 10 goals and seven assists in 13 career games when his teams have faced playoff elimination. This includes both goals in the Kings’ 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Sharks last season, as well five goals in four career Game 7s dating back to 2003.
Williams also has four goals over his past three games in this series, making him LA’s most important offensive contributor during its comeback from 0-3.
Questions For The Sharks
Can the Sharks score the game’s first goal?
Despite the unprecedented number of comebacks throughout the NHL in this year’s playoffs, one thing San Jose really needs on Wednesday is to score the first goal.
Scoring the first goal would help eliminate any doubt that may have crept into San Jose’s minds, as well as halt any momentum LA may take into the game – there’s an old saying that playoff momentum only lasts until the next goal.
LA has scored the first goal in four of the series’ first six games, and if there’s ever been a time the Sharks have ever needed a game’s first goal, it would be this Wednesday.
Will Marc-Edouard Vlasic play?
Will the Sharks top defenseman return to the lineup? Matt Irwin performed as well as could’ve been expected in his 18:41 TOI in Game 6. But, Vlasic is Vlasic, and would clearly be an upgrade. He is still listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Who Starts in Goal?
Despite an ugly finishing line that was distorted by a poor finish after the controversial Williams goal, Alex Stalock was pretty solid in Game 6.
Stalock held the Kings at bay with several saves – even of the spectacular variety – until the latter stages of the third period, certainly turning in a performance that was good enough to produce a winning effort.
“Alex played very well,” said McLellan. “He has a shot to play Game 7.”
Whether McLellan decides to start Stalock or return Niemi to the crease, the bottom line is that whoever starts, the Sharks will probably need a few clutch saves in Game 7, especially early.
Anything that can quell any second-guessing – McLellan will probably be second-guessed, whoever he starts – right off the bat would be in San Jose’s best interests, to say the least.
How Historic is This?
When Patrick Marleau’s overtime goal handed the Sharks a 4-3 win in Game 3, San Jose became the 176th team in NHL history to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series.
Wednesday will be just the ninth time one of these series reached a seventh game.
2011: The Sharks and Detroit Red Wings played a Game 7 of their best-of-seven series, after San Jose squandered a 3-0 series advantage in similar fashion to how it has in this series. The Sharks rebounded and took Game 7, 3-2, at the Shark Tank.
2011: The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7 against Vancouver, where Alexandre Burrows’ overtime goal helped the Canucks’ avoid a historic collapse.
2010: Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and the Philadelphia Flyers erased a 3-0 series deficit against the Boston Bruins by winning four straight to take their second-round series.
1975: The New York Islanders fell behind Philadelphia, 3-0, one round shy of the Stanley Cup Final, yet forced a Game 7; however, the Flyers rallied behind a Kate Smith rendition of “God Bless America” to win at home.
1975: One round earlier, the Islanders overcame a 3-0 deficit against Pittsburgh, finishing off the comeback with a 1-0 win on the road in Game 7.
1945: The Toronto Maple Leafs blew a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final against the Red Wings, but came back to win Game 7 in Detroit.
1942: This time, it was Detroit that blew a 3-0 lead in the Final against Toronto. However, the Maple Leafs finished the job and won the Cup on home ice.
1939: The Boston Bruins blew a 3-0 semifinal series lead against the Rangers, but rebounded to win Game 7 in triple overtime.