SAN JOSE, Calif. — Gabriel Landeskog returned to the Colorado Avalanche bench and sat down just as teammate Colin Wilson put the puck behind San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones. Game 7 on Wednesday night was tied, 2-all, in the second period. The Avalanche had new life.
Or so Landeskog believed.
“I didn’t think anything of it, to be honest with you. And then we were wondering why they weren’t dropping the puck,” the Avalanche captain said.
The Sharks have a video coach, Dan Darrow, who is tasked with quickly assessing plays to see whether there’s an opportunity for a coach’s challenge. Most people watching the game saw Derick Brassard make a sweeping one-handed pass into the Avalanche attacking zone and Nathan MacKinnon speed to the puck to set up Wilson, and all of them appeared to be onside. Darrow saw something else: Landeskog, standing at the door to the Avalanche bench, his skates appearing to land inside the attacking zone before the puck did.
Based on Darrow’s suggestion, the Sharks challenged the play with 12 minutes and 11 seconds left in the second period. Lose the challenge, lose the only timeout they had in regulation time of Game 7.
“He’s the lead on it, every night. Ballsy call,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said of Darrow.
The on-ice officials discussed the play with the NHL War Room in Toronto.
The decision: No goal.
“I saw some replays on the bench. From what we saw, it could have gone either way,” Landeskog said.
The NHL didn’t issue an explanation of the call until after the Sharks’ 3-2 victory to eliminate the Avalanche, which was uncharacteristic given the importance of the decision and the game.
“After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, the Situation Room determined that Gabriel Landeskog did not legally tag up at the blue line prior to the puck entering the offensive zone,” the league said. “The decision was made in accordance to Rule 83.3 (i), ‘All players of the offending team clear the zone at the same instant (skate contact with the blue line) permitting the attacking players to re-enter the attacking zone.'”
Essentially, Landeskog’s skate touched the blue line at one point and he wasn’t offside. Then his skates both went back to the right of the blue line as he slowly entered the Colorado bench, putting him offside again.
To have this type of offside called was uncommon, the Avalanche said.
“I would say it’s pretty rare,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said with an exasperated laugh. “In a Game 7, even more so. That player has nothing to do with the play that’s going on. It seems like such a minute detail, whether he’s onside or offside. So it’s strange, you know? It’s strange. And it’s something we could have done without tonight, no question.”
Controversial officiating in a Sharks Game 7 is officially a trend in these playoffs. They also eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights thanks in part to a five-minute major penalty on which they scored four goals and for which the NHL eventually apologized to Vegas.
The decision left Colorado despondent. Just under five minutes later, Joonas Donskoi scored to make it a 3-1 lead for the Sharks.
“We thought it was 2-2, and then we kinda got caught sleeping. And then it was 3-1,” Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole said. “No matter what that call is, we have to keep playing. We have to learn that when things don’t go our way, we have to take momentum back as quickly as possible.”
If that sounds like the dulcet tones of personal responsibility, that’s because the Avalanche took it after Game 7. In the same dressing room where Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault said the NHL should be “embarrassed” for the controversial major penalty in the Knights’ Game 7 loss, Landeskog took the officials off the hook and shouldered the blame for the critical overturned goal.
“It’s a clumsy mistake, you know? ‘Get off the ice.’ If I could have done something different on that play, I would have jumped the boards a lot quicker,” Landeskog said.
“Hopefully, the linesmen got it right. I haven’t been in that position at all, to have to make that call in a Game 7. It’s a tough job. It’s a tough call to make. Hopefully, they got it right. I’ll take the blame for that. Ultimately, it’s my skates on the ice. But there was a lot more to the game than that.”
Landeskog and his teammates pointed to a variety of other factors that went into their Game 7 defeat. There was MacKinnon’s unfortunate shoulder injury in the first period that limited his ice time; MacKinnon said it’s an injury he’ll need to rehab, but that “they shot me up with something, and I came back.” There was the slow start, as the return of captain Joe Pavelski from injury energized the Sharks and propelled them to a 2-0 lead in the first 11:35 of the game. There was the Avs’ push at the end when the score was 3-2 that produced several good chances but not the equalizing goal they needed.
“In the last minute, we could have tied it up. But nothing would go in,” said MacKinnon, who ended up playing 20:58 in Game 7. “It’s unfortunate. But we felt with the way the East is shaking out, and the West as well, we could have won the Cup this year. It truly felt like we could have won everything. It was up for grabs. It sucks.”
The Avalanche have a young core of players and more prospects on the way. Their window to win extends beyond this postseason.
What veteran players such as Cole hope is that the experiences from a Game 7 loss — from the frustrating overturned goal to the missed opportunities — are the learning experiences they’ll need to eventually win a series like this.
“There’s always turning points in every game. I think, hopefully, if we can learn from them and better recognize those situations, then maybe we can continue to grow as a team,” he said. “Because we did a ton of growing this year.”