As SB Nation continues with their “What If” week, we do the same and look back at one of the most fortunate plays in the history of Pittsburgh sports.
The Penguins and Predators were playing one of the more thrilling Stanley Cup Finals in 2017 with no shortage of on and off-ice incidents. But there was no bigger incident than in Game 6 when just over a minute into the 2nd period, referee Kevin Pollock made one of the worst calls in the NHL in some time. Fortunately the Penguins found themselves on the miraculous beneficial side of that call.
Predators forward Filip Forsberg got all of a wrist shot from the near faceoff dot that Penguins goalie Matt Murray got most of, but the puck found a way through Murray and was ripe for the taking in the Penguins crease. Colton Sissons of the Predators was in the right place, but wrong time it turns out, as he lunges for the loose puck and deposits it into as wide open a net as you could imagine in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But fate was on the Penguins side as referee Kevin Pollock appeared to lose sight of the puck or thought that Murray had contained it and blew his whistle just prior to Sissons knocking the puck in the net. And based on a truly ridiculous precedent, the perfectly good goal was waved off because one person out of the nearly 20,000 people there lost sight of the goal. Even after video review, the calling on the ice stood and you could imagine the level of anger on the Predators side.
I shouldn’t have to remind you of how this game ended, but let’s do that anyway because we can and because Predators fans were the worst in 2017 (I mean, they threw SIX!!!!!! catfish onto the ice during the series, including in the middle of play in this game):
But what if the refs weren’t incompetent and didn’t whistle that play dead? What would have happened?
I had actually just recently watched this game when it was rebroadcast recently on the NHL Network. And one thing was definitely clear - Matt Murray was having one of the best nights of his life between the pipes. He was there for every single chance that the Predators threw at him. It’s almost fitting that Kevin Pollock assumed he made the save on that fateful shot, as he made every other save in the game without breaking a sweat.
But you could say the same about Pekka Rinne at the other end as well. He was unbreakable for 58:25 before allowing a back-breaking goal. Figuratively and literally. The only shot that beat Rinne in the game came from behind his net and off his back. And of course it came from none-other than Mr. Irrelevant himself, Patric Hornqvist, who the Predators drafted almost 12 years prior.
What I found pretty ironic is that Matt Murray ended the game with 27 saves on 27 shots, with one obvious omission. Pekka Rinne finished with 27 shots on 28 shots. Had the referees not blown that play dead, both goalies likely would have finished the game with identical numbers. That one shot that didn’t count could have very well been the difference in the game.
Had that goal counted, the Predators would have had a 1-0 lead only 21 minutes into the game. The reason that broadcasts plaster teams records when scoring first is because it’s a big deal in how teams play on both sides afterwards. Had the score been 1-0 in the final moments, would Patric Hornqvist have be on the ice with Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen with less than two minutes remaining and down a goal? Doubtful. Would Matt Murray even be in net at that point? Again, probably not.
Looking back at the series, up until that game the home team had won each game and hadn’t scored less than four goals in any of the wins. So this game was entirely different from the rest. If the Predators goal had counted, and all that momentum had gone their way instead of against them when the goal was waived off, would it have been enough to carry them to victory? Seems very likely.
Here’s another wrinkle to this “What If” scenario. Say the Predators do hang on and win Game 6. That would force a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh. As most Penguins fans quickly remember, all five of their Stanley Cup victories came in the other team’s building. The lone Stanley Cup loss just so happened to be in 2008, and you guessed it, that came on Mellon Arena ice.
Would the Penguins have been able to change that random, yet, dubious fact? Would the Penguins still be the only team to win back-to-back Cups in the salary cap era? Thankfully we’ll never know. And we Penguins fan can thank Mr. Kevin Pollock for that. Sometimes the refs suck in the best way. But most times they just suck.
But one thing is for certain. And that is the Penguins won the Cup that night in 2017. Let’s take another look at that, just because we can: