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Live by the Whistle, Die by the Whistle

A minute into the second period of Game 6 the Predators appeared to take the lead on a goal from Colton Sissons. Referee Kevin Pollock immediately waved off the goal. Screened by Matt Murray, Pollock never saw the puck sitting free in the crease. The call infuriated the Predators and rightly so, but it should not take away from what the Penguins accomplished on Sunday night in Nashville.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Deadlocked in a scoreless tie early in the second period of last night’s Game 6 it was becoming apparent that whoever scored the first goal was going to have a huge upper hand going forward.

At 1:07 of the second period a shot from Predators’ winger Filip Forsberg was stopped by Penguins’ goaltender Matt Murray. Unfortunately for Murray the puck slipped through him and lay in his crease just inches from the goal line. With no Pittsburgh defender around the clear the puck out of danger, Colton Sissons jumped on the loose puck and pushed it past Murray for a seemingly 1-0 Nashville lead.

Immediately, referee Kevin Pollock skated in and signaled no goal. It turns out Pollock blew the play dead after losing sight of the puck when it went into Murray and because of where he was positioned, was unable to see it come free on the other side for Sissons to knock home.

When the goal was waived off the Predators players and their fans were justifiably irate at the call. Myself as well as any Penguins fan will admit, if the roles were reversed we would have reacted in the same manner.

This was just he beginning of a long night for Sissons who came oh so close to scoring a multiple occasions. Later in the second period the Predators caught the Pens in a bad change and Sissions walked in alone on Murray only to be robbed on the doorstep. Late in the third period Sissons found space in the slot and fired a shot just wide and off the post with the game still scoreless.

Going back to Sissons original bit a bad luck, the blown goal call is unfortunate for a multitude of reasons:

  1. First and foremost it was simply the wrong call and robbed the Predators of a go ahead goal that changes everything that happens after it.
  2. It puts a slight tarnish on what was easily the best game of the series that featured chances both ways and the goalies going save-for-save with each other.
  3. Although not a guarantee, that goal makes it all the more likely the Predators take Game 6 and send the Stanley Cup Final back to Pittsburgh for a decisive Game 7. Instead, the game remains tied for almost another 40 minutes before Patric Hornqvist breaks the deadlock with 1:35 to go in the game.
  4. A win last night gave the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup titles and cemented the legacies of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the process. That’s what should be getting the bulk of the media attention but instead we are faced with yet another refereeing blunder being the main talking point.
  5. Calls such as this add fuel to the fire for fan conspiracies that the NHL favors the Pens despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
  6. Last and perhaps the most important consequence of all, this is simply just another bad missed call in a playoffs littered by poor officiating. This isn’t a new trend by any means but it’s not something that should be brushed aside and accepted. It was a bad call and as a result the officials called the game differently the rest of the way.

I don’t envy professional referees in any way. I would never want their job. Having to make split second decisions in a sport as fast paced as hockey is not easy. I understand Kevin Pollock was screened by Murray and could not see the puck after it hit him. The whistle was early, plain and simple. From where he was standing he saw the puck disappear into Murray and several Predators skating towards the goal mouth. His instinct was to blow it dead. He did and it was the wrong decision.

Above I mentioned how irate we as Pens fans would have been had the roles been reversed and it was the Pens having a goal taken off the board. PPG Paints Arena might not exist today had this happened.

While it can be easy to sympathize with the Predators, the reality is the no goal call changed how the game was officiated the rest of the way.

Shortly after the call, Conor Sheary was whistled for tripping that was questionable at best.

Later in the second period Carl Hagelin came streaking down the ice only to be interfered with by Rinne as he attempted to go around the net.

Heading to the third, Crosby blocks a shot and heads up ice to retrieve the puck. Craig Smith denies him with no call.

Still in the third third period, Olli Maatta is called for tripping Viktor Arvidsson. Probably the right call but it’s the third Predators power play of the game and at a crucial time.

Before they kill off the Maatta minor things get worse. Trevor Daley takes a stick up high from Ryan Ellis that goes uncalled. Daley responds with a punch to Ellis. Pens are down 5-on-3 for 30 seconds. They killed off both.

None of this is to say some of those calls were unwarranted or wrong. Simply put, the game was called differently after the disallowed goal from Sissons.

You can sympathize with the Predators but to a point. They had a goal taken from them in the most important game of the season. A goal that could have put them within a victory of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

On the flip side, the call was a singular moment in a game fraught with chances on both ends. The call didn’t cause them to go 0-for-4 on the power play including the late 5-on-3. The call didn’t prevent Sissons from scoring on his breakaway, that was Murray answering the bell. The call doesn’t wash away the fact that Pekka Rinne was a sieve in all three games in Pittsburgh.

And maybe it was Rinne who said it best when asked about the call after the game:

The call doesn’t guarantee the Pens still don’t win Game 6. As unfair as the call was you still have to roll with the punches and find a way to respond. That’s the true mark of a championship team. That’s what the Pens did on Sunday night. They could have complained and let it get to them but they didn’t. Instead, they fought on and finished the job.

While the talk nationally right now may surround the blown call, all the talk in Pittsburgh is focused on one thing. The Pittsburgh Penguins and their improbable journey to a second straight Stanley Cup. Nothing can change that fact. This will never detract from what the Penguins accomplished on Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. History was made by the most resilient team in franchise history. A team built around this generation’s two greatest players. A team that defines the very city it represents.

There will be no asterisk because of one bad call, just the names of the individuals responsible will be engraved on hockey’s holiest grail.