Controversy over possible illegal hand pass clouds Sharks’ OT win over Blues

Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) argue after giving up a goal to the Sharks in overtime of Game 3. (Jeff Roberson)

As soon as Erik Karlsson’s overtime goal gave his Sharks a 5-4 win Wednesday over the Blues, St. Louis players began pleading with the officials. They were adamant San Jose benefited from an illegal hand pass, and replays indicated they had a strong case, but the play was not reviewable, and the visiting Sharks were able to take a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference finals series.

In a sequence that unfolded deep in the Sharks’ offensive zone, San Jose’s Timo Meier appeared to bat the puck toward teammate Gustav Nyquist, who quickly pushed it to Karlsson. The veteran defenseman whipped a shot through the pads of Blues goalie Jordan Binnington 5:23 into overtime, setting off a jubilant celebration by the visiting Sharks while their opponents howled in protest.

Asked at his postgame news conference if he thought there was a hand pass on the play that beat his team, Blues Coach Craig Berube turned the question around, asking reporters, “Well, what do you guys think?” Hearing a response in the affirmative, Berube said, “Okay, then don’t ask me.”

Told that reporters wanted to know what he had to say about it, Berube replied: “Nothing. I have nothing to say about it.” He added that it’s “difficult to lose in overtime in the playoffs, anytime,” but that “the team’s gotta move on.”

The relevant NHL rule regarding hand passes has this to say: “A player shall be permitted to stop or ‘bat’ a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the on-ice officials, he has directed the puck to a teammate, or has allowed his team to gain an advantage, and subsequently possession and control of the puck is obtained by a player of the offending team, either directly or deflected off any player or official.”

That appeared to be the case with Meier, as the Sharks certainly gained an advantage, but his act was missed by the two referees and two linesmen, and it could not be reviewed by replay officials in Toronto. If Meier had batted the puck directly into the net, that would have been subject to review, and the goal likely would have been overturned. But as it was, the Blues had little recourse other than to make clear their frustration.

“I really didn’t get an explanation, other than I guess there’s a different set of rules for two different teams, so I’m sure they’ll lose some sleep tonight after looking at it,” St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of the officials after the game. “But that’s all I’m going to say about it.”

Making the loss all the more painful for the Blues was that they had twice rallied from two-goal deficits and held a one-goal lead with just over a minute left in regulation. However, the Sharks’ Logan Couture tied it at 4-4 with 61 seconds left, after San Jose pulled its goalie, Martin Jones, to put an extra skater on the ice.

Jones made 28 saves on 32 shots, while Binnington stopped 27 of 32 shots. Karlsson had two goals altogether, as did teammate Joe Thornton, with David Perron tallying twice for St. Louis, which also got goals from Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen.

St. Louis will have to regroup in time for Friday’s Game 4 at home. Meanwhile, some Blues fans couldn’t help but notice Wednesday that Meier was officially credited with an assist on Karlsson’s game-winner.

At his news conference, Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer answered a question about the possible hand pass by saying, “Yeah, you know, quick play. I’m not going to comment on the officiating. We found a way to win a game.”

“It was a game of momentum swings, and those quick little plays happen all over the ice,” DeBoer added. “Some of them get called, some get missed. We found a way to win.”

Karlsson addressed a question about the game-winning sequence by telling reporters, “Well, we weren’t playing handball, were we? So we were playing hockey. I think we deserved to win this game, and at the end of the day, I think that neither team drew the short stick on any of the calls out there, so it was a fair game.”

It wasn’t the first time the Sharks have benefited greatly in these playoffs from officiating many found questionable. In a first-round Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose was down 3-0 in the third period when a controversial five-minute penalty was called against Vegas’s Cody Eakin for a cross-check; the Sharks used their man advantage to score four goals and eventually won that contest in overtime.

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