A visibly angry Winnipeg head coach came to greet the media after the miserable loss at home Tuesday night, and made it crystal clear he wasn’t going to comment on the officiating.
Winnipeg hockey fans sure did, though. They were spewing a froth so disdainful and thick that it could have been walked on. The raucous crowd left their seats as beer cans and food boxes left their hands, ice-bound. The focus of their ire? The refs, of course.
The entire game between the Jets and Sharks can be whittled down to little more than one play. Forget the Sharks’ shorthanded goal late in the first, care of Chris Tierney off of a Dustin Byfuglien giveaway in the neutral zone. Forget Thornton’s goal, the one that put the Sharks ahead, that came in the last minute of the first period. Tomas Hertl came streaking in and Hellebuyck made a nice stop on him, but Joe Thornton was there to tap home the rebound.
Yes, forget all of those plays, and others, too. Because the game came down to the Wheeler penalty. After Myers took an atrocious five-minute major and ten-minute misconduct for cross-checking with 7:05 left in the third, the Jets were facing the majority of the time remaining on the penalty kill. Just over a minute later, Blake Wheeler tripped goaltender Alex Stalock—who was caught outside the net—while tracking the puck behind the net. Down went Stalock, and Wheeler wrapped the puck around an empty net for what 15,000-plus fans thought was the tying goal.
Wheeler was called for tripping, the goal was disallowed, the fans nearly rioted, and garbage rained down from the rafters at MTS Centre and littered the ice.
After the game, Wheeler said that he’s man enough to admit if he slew footed the goalie, but according to him that wasn’t the case. Wheeler said he was after the puck, and he was turning tight around the net and Stalock was in a bad spot. He also said that he kept his left foot—the one that ended up tripping Stalock—in position and never moved it toward wandering goaltender.
From where I was sitting, contact appeared incidental. I’ve seen it plenty of times around the league where a goalie gets knocked down after he leaves the crease to play the puck as a defenseman. I’ve seen contact with the goalie not get called because the goalie was out of position. Why this time?
But, at the end of the night, it was Paul Maurice’s words that summed up the game. “We weren’t as good as we needed to be to beat that team. They were faster than we were, and it was apparent all the way through the game. We got down but we had some chances to tie the game. We were in a 2-1 game, so it’s not out of reach at any point. But they were faster than us.”
I just can’t figure out whether the Sharks were impressive, or the Jets were embarrassing themselves out there. This was a back-to-backer for the Sharks, and their third in four days—all of which they won—and they were quicker than a Jets team who’ve only played two in their last five days, and lost both.
It’s not like the Jets didn’t get their chances, though, because they did. But a team can’t expect to win a hockey game when they take 35 minutes worth of penalties, including the ten-minute misconduct to Tyler Myers. Even without the misconduct, there was more than an entire period’s worth of hockey the Jets played short handed.
The five-on-three at the end of the game proved too much for the Jets, and they couldn’t fight off the Shark attack. Joe Pavelski put the game away with a perfectly placed one-timer from Logan Couture that went short side over Hellebuyck’s blocker. The Sharks potted an empty netter, and the final score was 4-1.