Bernie: The Blues Left Themselves Vulnerable To Officiating Buffoonery, And The Garage League Strikes Again

Fifth Down.

Fifth Goal.

I covered the infamous “Fifth Down” controversy at Mizzou in 1990. Because of officiating negligence and the failure to keep track of the downs, Colorado received an extra play, the fifth down, and scored the winning touchdown. That game … the officiating disaster … remains prominent in memory, and history, today.

It’s still remarkable how every member of a large power-conference officiating crew could miss that. How a crew of trained professionals was incapable of counting to five.

In the realm of incompetent officiating, I never thought I’d see anything so egregious again.

Wrong.

The Fifth Goal sets a new standard — a low and horrendous standard — for officiating ineptitude and cowardice.

The San Jose Sharks won the critical Game 3 of the Western Conference finals at Enterprise Center, 5-4, with an overtime goal made possible by an illegal hand pass. As tough, blurry, hard-to-see, hard-to-know, hard-to-tell calls go, this wasn’t remotely difficult to decipher.

The play happened in plain sight, in open space, easy to see, simple to detect, an automatic no-doubt-about-it call. There was no thicket of bodies, no haze of confusion, nothing to block the sight lines of all four officials.

San Jose forward Timo Meier performed hand surgery on this game to save the Sharks.

Meier batted and directed the puck toward linemate teammate Gus Nyquist, who moved it over to defenseman Erik Karlsson, who banked the equivalent of stolen money for the OT win and a 2-1 series lead for San Jose.

And the officials did nothing…

This league did nothing except provide an unhelpful supervisor of officials Kay Whitmore to talk to a pool reporter, Jeremy Rutherford. With the public — including loyal paying customers — wanting to know what the league had to say for itself after its latest clown show, the smug Whitmore offered non-informative, non-answer answers to serious questions that demanded an explanation. He just kept repeating “non reviewable.”

It was so bad, even Whitmore acknowledged that his responses amounted to one big cop-out.

It was a slap in the face too.

This was a blatant “Bleep You, We Don’t Give a Bleep What You Think,” from the NHL to its ticket buyers, its TV watchers, to the consumers who buy NHL sweaters and gear.

A hand pass isn’t reviewable if the officials miss the infraction in real-time action? A goal that determines the outcome of a crucial Western Conference conflict can’t be looked at by the NHL oversight watchers in Toronto … and yet this league will spend six minutes examining video to see if a tiny sliver of a player’s skate was offside — completely irrelevant to the goal that had just been scored — in an absolutely meaningless 5-1 game between also-rans Ottawa and Los Angeles in early March?

Seriously … how utterly nuts is this? Just how crazy-buffoonish-looney are these simpletons who determine the rules and the procedures in the NHL? The league has expensive and advanced technology at its collective fingertips to provide insurance against the typically moronic officiating … but won’t put it to use after a critical moment that might be the tipping point in this San Jose vs. St. Louis series.

Nice league, Bettman.

And how can you employ four professional officials who can’t even be bothered to keep an eye on the puck — to see an obvious hand pass — in the game’s decisive episode? Why are they out there if they’re looking the other way?

In a conference final?

With so much at stake?

Is this    really  the best you can do?

If so, then go to the St. Louis Zoo today, talk to the folks in charge, and see if you can hire four chimpanzees to officiate Game 4 on Friday night at Enterprise Center.

The Blues have been on the ice for 51 seasons, and this is their 42nd time as a playoff contestant, and I believe we’ve reached a deeper level of the abyss for anger and agony, despair and disillusionment.

Just like that, this best-of-seven series was seriously tainted. The latest stain on the Garage League’s pathetic operation will last forever if the Sharks advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Blues deserve some blame here for not finishing off the Sharks in protecting a 4-3 lead late in the third period. I don’t know what defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was thinking by prematurely icing the puck — especially the second time — before San Jose struck lightning with the extra-attacker goal with 61 seconds remaining.

The Blues also squandered several marvelous scoring chances in the third period and OT. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones saved all 15 shots he faced in the third period and overtime.

The Blues could have … should have … put the Sharks down. Instead the Blues left themselves vulnerable to the random insanity and skullduggery of NHL officiating.

There was Jaden Schwartz missing wide when trying to put the clincher into the empty net.

And damn: those unnecessary icings by captain Alex Pietrangelo.

What the hell? Skate the puck out of the zone. Or, if you must clear, loft the puck softly out of the zone –like a chip shot — instead of blasting the disc all the way down the ice in 1.2 seconds. That’s panic. That’s fear on display. … icing the puck because you can’t handle the pressure gave San Jose players more time, more chances to win faceoffs, more opportunities, more rest, more breath, more life.

I’ve despised NHL officiating for decades, but the Blues played a significant role in their own demise.

And that’s a shame.

It could have been avoided.

“The first icing, that’s a tough play, coming around the net,” Berube said. “There really weren’t a whole lot of options. He was trying to get it out of the zone. Obviously too hard. The second one, though, on the draw, I think we can skate a little bit on that play and probably get the puck out without icing it, but listen, things happen, they’re quick out there and not a lot of time.

“Things happen so you’ve just got to be better there. We’ve got to close that game out in my opinion. We should have won it 4-3.”

Agreed.

But let’s not let these officials skate from their overtime disgrace.

Which the zebras did last night — leaving the building without commenting … like defenseless little children that must be protected from questions. Yeah, hand a game (no pun intended) to the Sharks … and react by being fainthearted and feeble.  Poor babies.

There’s no excuse for this officiating miscarriage — unless of course, we’re talking about citing hopeless stupidity and gutlessness of men who refused to do the right thing.

No, really, there are no excuses for this, and it’s not good enough to just repeat the same old dismissive insults that usually start with, “Well, what do you expect? It’s the NHL.”

That’s the sad thing. The assumption when watching an NHL game is that the on-ice officials will miss calls, make up calls, see things that don’t exist, and lose their vision when something blatant occurs only a few feet away.

The NHL is such a poorly run league… a league that has major-league status and an entertaining game played by honorable athlete-warriors. But it is a league that constantly defaults on integrity and credibility. A league that doesn’t care about it’s laughingstock reputation.

If you’ve watched this league for a number of years — and I’ve been depressed by it since 1974 — you just come to expect general badness, and stink — and shrug when the worst officiating, leadership and accountability in professional sports ruins yet another game.

The only way to continue to love the sport of hockey, the greatness of hockey, is to numb yourself … dumb yourself down … become somewhat immune to the reality of constantly having your intelligence and trust and faith assaulted nonstop by a league operation that’s basically a “Wizard of Oz” existence: no heart, no brain, no courage.

A hand pass.

Another free pass for San Jose in this postseason.

And a collective coronary bypass for Blues’ fans.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie