The National Hockey League has apologized to the Vegas Golden Knights for an incorrect major penalty call that opened the door for a four-goal San Jose Sharks rally and eventual victory in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.
"The league did reach out and apologize," general manager George McPhee said Thursday in Las Vegas.
Midway through the third period, with the Golden Knights in control with a 3-0 lead, Sharks center Joe Pavelski won a faceoff from Vegas center Cody Eakin, who then delivered a cross-check to Pavelski's chest. Pavelski stumbled backward into Vegas forward Paul Stastny, who knocked him off his skates when they collided. Pavelski fell straight to the ice on the right side of his head, his helmet slamming hard, and began bleeding profusely. Brent Burns and other Sharks players surrounded their captain, calling for the training staff to come out. Pavelski eventually sat up, and gingerly skated to the bench, his teammate Joe Thornton pressing a towel against his head.
Neither referees Eric Furlatt nor Dan O'Halloran signaled for a penalty as the play went on, but eventually decided that Eakin deserved a major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct with 10:47 left in regulation.
A major penalty for cross-checking, by rule, is "at the discretion of the referee based on the severity of the contact" on the play. According to Vegas coach Gerard Gallant, the on-ice officials informed the Knights' bench that they felt Eakin had hit Pavelski in the head with his stick. The replays showed it was a stick to Pavelski's chest.
Thornton fired up the Sharks' bench after the incident, proclaiming that they should score three goals for their fallen teammate. San Jose ended up scoring four goals on the five-minute major penalty power play to take the lead, and then eventually won the game in overtime.
After the controversial call, Gallant said he spoke to Eakin on Thursday, and the Knights center said, "I'm fine. I didn't do anything wrong, and I'm fine."
The Sharks said Thursday that Pavelski is doubtful for Friday's Game 1 against the Avalanche.
McPhee appreciated the NHL's apology, and said the Golden Knights won't obsess over the controversy.
"But with respect to this organization, there will be no pity parties. We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. Stuff happens in games. We're going to take the rearview mirror out and move forward and put a real good team on the ice next year. We're not going to carry around a big suitcase full of yesterdays. That's not going to happen," he said.
McPhee was asked if the organization might support a rule change that could allow major penalty calls to be reviewed by the NHL situation room or by the supervisor of officials on-site at games. "I think that's for the league to determine, if they want to do anything additional. I haven't thought it through enough," he said.
The Knights had their chances to close out the Sharks in Games 5 and 6, and failed to do so. Then they allowed four goals in less than five minutes on a third-period power play, and couldn't find a goal in overtime to take Game 7.
"You worry about that call that's coming. And it came, and it was unfortunate for us," McPhee said. "We played hard, we did our best. It didn't work out."