Blackhawks blow another lead to Flames behind pair of questionable goal reviews

The calls didn’t go Chicago’s way Tuesday, but that’s little consolation for another gut-wrenching defeat.

Alex DeBrincat scored early but the Chicago Blackhawks blew a lead against the Calgary Flames for the second straight game in a 3-2 loss. The team now has a 7-10-3 record in its last 20 games dating back to mid-December after a couple huge calls didn’t go their way in another close defeat.

DeBrincat opened the scoring early in the first period with an impressive snipe on the power play. He’s so good at uncorking accurate shots with his small frame, and did just that to beat Mike Smith for his 19th goal of the season. Only Vancouver All-Star winger Brock Boeser has more among NHL rookies this season.

Unfortunately, that initial success with the man advantage didn’t carry over to future chances. The Blackhawks would get five other power plays in the game, but mustered just four shots on goal during them.

One of the big turning points in the game came when Ryan Hartman appeared to score a go-ahead goal during a wild scramble in the second period. However, the play went to a series of reviews, and the conclusion of that lengthy break was the referees waving the goal off the scoreboard.

The first review by the referees was to determine whether Hartman kicked the puck into the net, and they determined he had not. Good goal, right? Not so quick, because right after that, the Flames initiated a challenge for goaltender inference on Hartman. The referees decided on that review that Hartman did commit interference, so while he didn’t kick the puck, it’s still no goal.

When assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson was asked about the league’s goaltender inference calls during the broadcast before the start of the third period, he simply said they’re, “50-50.” At this point, each one really does feel like a coin toss.

The second turning point came on another review when Stone scored minutes before the end of regulation to give Calgary the victory. The Blackhawks immediately challenged the goal for a potential high-sticking deflection, but the referees quickly returned to mid-ice to announce that the goal was confirmed.

We’ve reached the point where it’s difficult to muster too much anger in any direction with these calls. Referees are clearly just making subjective decisions on a case-by-case basis for each situation, and there’s little rhyme or reason as to why a call in Chicago might differ from a call in, say, Boston or Anaheim. The calls just seem to pop out however they do — a 50-50 proposition, as Samuelsson suggested — and there’s little that anyone from players to coaches to media to fans can do other than shrug and hope this situation is rectified at some point.

The NHL’s review system is clearly broken, and not just because both of the big calls went the Flames’ way Tuesday night. Everything is so close, and so subjective, that important calls often feel like spinning a wheel now.

The Wild already won Tuesday, so they’re now seven points ahead of the Blackhawks for the final wild card spot. Unless things start changing in a hurry, we’re watching the final gasps of a dying season.

3 stars

1. Sean Monahan, Flames — 1 goal, 1 assist
2. Mike Smith, Flames — 34 saves on 36 shots
3. Alex DeBrincat, Blackhawks — 1 goal, 6 shots on goal