The people of St. Louis are not happy about hockey this morning. Now, your first response might be, "What else is new?" but there's an actual discussion to be had here. Blues fans are genuinely upset over the way their team lost Game 2 to the Blackhawks over a pair of controversial coach's challenges. Many -- not just Blues fans, but also media people and others -- directed their frustration towards the referees.
However, there's nothing wrong about what the referees did last night.
The big turning point Friday came in the third period when Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko scored the apparent go-ahead goal to put his team up 2-1. However, the play went under review for offside following a challenge from Joel Quenneville and was overturned. Video replays showed that Jori Lehtera's back skate had just lifted off the ice -- making him offside -- as the puck crossed the blue line on a pass through the neutral zone. No goal.
The whole process took about three minutes, which was a problem for people who felt it slowed the game's pacing. Television commercials and various other stoppages are okay, of course, but when it comes to getting an incredibly important call in a pivotal playoff game correct, we should prioritize speed over efficacy, right? It's a bizarre argument and one that shouldn't hold any water in 2016 when every other league has effectively implemented review systems that are integral to getting calls right. If you're suddenly not okay with video reviews now, because of this call, then it's clear you have a different problem.
And to be fair, there might be a legitimate issue here. However, I think that most of the frustration over the past 12 hours, which has largely been aimed toward the league and its referees, is misguided. The NHL has a system in place to review offside calls via the coach's challenge. Last night, that system was used effectively to correct a mistaken call made on the ice. It's a credit to the Hawks' coaches who urged Coach Q to make a challenge. The refs, meanwhile, did precisely what they're supposed to do in that situation. If that review doesn't happen and Tarasenko scores on an offside play, how does that serve to make the game any more fair?
It doesn't, and the referees made the right call. Per the NHL rulebook, Lehtera's left skate being above the ice constitutes as being offside.
Off-side - Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone. The position of the player's skates and not that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play. A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line regardless of the position of his stick.
If there's a problem, it's in this definition of offside. Everything that occurred last night, when considering this information, makes sense. Even the three-minute time frame to make the final call doesn't seem unreasonable given how close the call was and the importance of the game. Maybe the league needs to review its processes to see how it can shave some time off, but in general, this is working as designed.
"I think the initial purpose of an offside challenge was to rid the game of egregious calls where a player is a foot or two offside, but you can't just do those ones," NHL senior director of hockey operations Kay Whitmore said to NHL.com. "If it's offside, it's offside, and this one was millimeters offside."
Maybe the offside rule isn't perfect, though. It's clear that a lot of people don't love the definition, which requires at least one skate be in contact with the ice behind the blue ice. One suggestion could be to use the blue line as a vertical plane, similar to how the end zone line is used to determine touchdowns in football. If that definition was implemented, the referees likely would've reviewed Tarasenko's goal and let it stand. But based on the current rule, the NHL is stating pretty clearly that things went according to plan.
It seems clear where the real issue might exist here. The coach's challenge might still be working itself out, but it's in its infancy stage. And anyone who says they'd prefer to trim a couple minutes off the final run time rather than ensure correct calls probably only thinks that when the calls don't go their team's way. There's too much at stake in these games -- and too much technology available to the league -- to leave this to the human element. This is a conclusion the NHL made last year when it implemented coach's challenges, and again before that when it added video reviews of scoring plays.
Suggestions that the game was "fixed," or that any sort of foul play was involved here are almost laughable. The referees did not get the wrong call. If something is going to change, which presumably wouldn't happen until the offseason anyway, it should come to the offside rule, not video reviews. Onto Game 3.
(Ed. Note: This post was updated with a quote from NHL.com)