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You’ve got to love double-elimination time in high school and college baseball, particularly the high schools which right now are feverishly battling their way through sectional double-elims in their attempts to reach the state tournament. The girls softball sectionals are done, of course, and they are off to the state this week.
But exciting as those tournaments are, we have to pause and check back with the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and the NBA tournament, both of which are just getting started in final best-of-seven series.
Vegas continues to be an astounding story in its first year in the NHL, and the Golden Knights gained a 6-4 first-game victory in a fantastic game decided by the Knights fourth line, which scored the last three goals in the third period to erase a 4-3 Washington lead.
There were, of course, a couple of horrible officiating calls that greatly affected the outcome. First, after Tom Wilson scored for the 4-3 Caps lead early in the third period, Ryan Reaves tied it a minute and a half later on a controversial play. Facing the net on the right side, Reaves had Washington’s John Carlson between him and the net, facing his goaltender, Bryan Holtby. Reaves flattened Carlson with a crosscheck across the shoulder blades, sending him facedown into the crease — just moments before the puck squirted out, right onto the stickblade of Reaves, who immediately flicked it up and into the roof of the net for the tying goal.
With two referees and two linesmen on the ice, all four sets of eyes had nowhere to be looking except at the illegal hit at the crease and the goal, but none of the four called the crosscheck. Maybe it was because of the mob scene that is the inside of the Vegas arena and they were intimidated, but it was inexcusable not to disallow the goal and call the crosscheck. In fact, they say all goals are reviewed, and no review of the goal could possibly not also show the crosscheck, which should have preempted the goal.
It turned out to be critical, when Tomas Nosek scored to break the tie for Vegas midway through the final period, then Nosek also clinched it with an empty-net goal for the 6-4 decision.The final three goals were all scored by the Golden Knights’ fourth line.
The highly eventful third period had more. Because Reaves’s hit made the game erupt in full-scale chippiness, Wilson, a tough, hard-hitting winger, came across the ice and flattened Jonathan Marchessault with a blindside hit. There also was no call on that play, but after screams of protest, the four officials got together and reviewed the play. Incredibly, they decided to call a retroactive penalty on Wilson for interference, but only when they also called an offsetting penalty on Vegas — meaning the teams would play 4-on-4 rather than have a power play.
At that point, the fact that Vegas scored the last three goals to win meant less than the inexcusable fact that the officials decided to call a retroactive penalty on Wilson, but never apparently considered calling the retroactive penalty on Reaves, even though play obviously stopped on his goal a second after his crosscheck.
But consider what we’re faced with: If referees determine that it’s OK to call retroactive penalties, why don’t they just let everything goal, and call a timeout every five minutes to review all the play of that five minutes and call the half-dozen or so infractions that undoubtedly would be discernable in slow-mo replay.
I don’t care which team wins the Cup, but I’d like to see it done without controversial officiating. People who don’t understand hockey can’t understand what makes the Vegas story so special. It’s not because they compiled a roster of rejects, although they were all left unprotected for Vegas to draft from. What you need to analyze is that Vegas might not have a single player who would be a first-unit player on any other team, but their secret is that their third and fourth lines are just as good as their first and second lines, meaning there is no letdown in speed or skill when the third or fourth line is on the ice.
Given that, Vegas has been able to consistently use its speed to make life miserable for opponents all season long, and it’s especially noticeable in the playoffs. Washington has Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson, and while Vegas has none of the above, all four Vegas lines can skate with and often outplay anybody’s top two lines all night long.
My pick is for Washington to win the Cup, but it won’t be easy. At this point, nothing is easy. But both teams are up for a long, tough series, and, we hope, so are the officials, who already have taken a game off.
Hawks softball team not bad in ‘Down‘ year
When the Hermantown Hawks dropped a 6-4 game to North Branch in the Section 7AAA softball tournament, knowledgeable observers murmured that, well, this Hermantown team isn’t as overpowering as other recent Hawks teams.
Don’t tell that to the Denfeld Hunters. Hermantown spotted the Hunters a run in the top of the first inning, then scored 9 in the bottom of the first, 3 in the last of the second, and 7 in the last of the third, for a 19-2 rout at Cloquet’s Braun Park last Saturday, eliminating Denfeld, and sending Hermantown on to Tuesday’s round, when the Hawks beat Chisago Lakes 6-4 at Grand Rapids.
Hermantown was only 11-10 before beating Denfeld and Chisago Lakes, sending them deeper into double elimination at 13-10, where they could pick their poison — the loser between top seeds North Branch and Cloquet. Regardless, Tom Bang’s resilient team already proved that even in a “down” year, never underestimate the Hawks.