Vegas beats Winnipeg with stick

Jets livid goal wasn't overturned after Hellebuyck slashed in head

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A heavyweight battle of the Western Conference’s top-two teams delivered in spades Thursday night. And while the Vegas Golden Knights skated away with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets, it was a controversial call earlier in the game — and Winnipeg’s reaction to it — that will surely reverberate all the way to the NHL’s head office.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/02/2018 (1659 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A heavyweight battle of the Western Conference’s top-two teams delivered in spades Thursday night. And while the Vegas Golden Knights skated away with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets, it was a controversial call earlier in the game — and Winnipeg’s reaction to it — that will surely reverberate all the way to the NHL’s head office.

We take you back to late in second period, with the teams locked in a 1-1 tie and Vegas on the power play. Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck couldn’t quite squeeze a shot from the blue-line, and the puck sat loose behind him just inches from the goal-line. Vegas forward James Neal, apparently trying to cash in, took a wild swing with his stick that caught Hellebuyck flush in the head. Neal’s twig broke in half, the blade spinning towards the corner boards as the proverbial smoking gun.

Only there was no penalty call on the play and no whistle. Erik Haula then pounced on the loose puck, knocking it home for the go-ahead tally. Winnipeg protested, and the two referees huddled with the linesman for a few seconds before ruling it a goal.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice challenged for goaltender interference. Following a lengthy review, referee Ghislain Hebert ruled the original call stood — even though it was clear as day Neal slashed Hellebuyck in the face with great force.

Maurice was livid on the bench, and more than 15,000 amateur officials at Bell MTS Place voiced their disgust. Obviously, missed penalties can’t be reviewed or overturned. And the NHL clearly felt the infraction wasn’t enough to prevent Hellebuyck from playing the puck that was already in behind him.

“The explanation was that the puck was behind the goalie, which gives their player the right to break his stick over (Hellebuyck’s) head. There’s been an outcry with the league to get this right. We were told before the game that it was going to be a little bit cleaner, they were going to be looking for goalie interference. It’s the first time I’ve seen a guy break a stick over a goalie’s head,” said an irate captain Blake Wheeler, who was only getting started.

“Come on, (he) f—–g breaks a stick over his head. That’s not a goal. I don’t care where the puck is,” said Wheeler. “Right before we went over there, I was told that if Connor’s in the crease and he makes contact with him with his stick, it’s no goal. So, I came back to the bench pretty confident that it was going to be no goal. If anything, we should have been on a five-minute power play or something.”

Hellebuyck couldn’t believe it, saying he was “dazed” at being hit in the head.

“I think it’s a terrible call. You would think the video replay is there for that reason. I don’t even think their team wanted that goal, obviously they’re going to take it. That’s just dirty,” said Hellebuyck. “I can take a stick to the face. But just because I don’t throw my head back and make it obvious, I feel like I got kind of screwed on this. Maybe I should start diving a little bit, that’s just ridiculous.”

Over to Maurice, who said teams just got a memo the other day that the NHL would start loosening up the way they called goaltender interference following too many disallowed goals.

“I don’t know how there would be an event that would be more egregious with goaltender interference, just beyond the spirit of the rule,” said Maurice. “The idea that a guy could clean a goalie out would be goalie interference, but a two-hand to the head wouldn’t. What are we going to do with our goalies now. The puck’s loose in the crease, so swing away?”

Maurice said the interpretation in Thursday’s game can’t be what the NHL is wanting.

“We can’t have people swinging at our goalies’ heads. You can’t allow that to creep into the game,” he said.

Kyle Connor scored with 2:36 left in the third period to tie it and at least salvage a point for the Jets, who are 30-13-9 and remain on top of the Central Division. David Perron delivered the dagger with just over a minute left in overtime, beating Hellebuyck with a wrister. Vegas improves to 34-12-4 and remains on top of the Pacific Division.

Winnipeg had taken a 1-0 lead late in the first period following some good work by the fourth line. Connor dumped the puck in, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury tried to play it behind his net. Matt Hendricks beat him to it, and passed it in front to linemate Joel Armia, who swept it into the empty net.

Vegas tied it midway through the second period with the Jets on a power play. Wheeler was the lone man back, and he was muscled off the puck and sent flying by Reilly Smith. The speedy Vegas forward then skated in all alone and roofed a shot over Hellebuyck.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Vegas Golden Knights score against the Winnipeg Jets during the 2nd period making the score 2-1 for Vegas at Bell MTS Centre Thursday evening.

Winnipeg’s power play, which came into the game ranked No. 2 in the NHL and No. 1 at home, was a mess not only on that play, but also on the night as they went 0-for-3.

This game was much more of a playoff-style grinder, not the freewheeling track meet that saw the teams trading chances and goals in their previous two meetings this season. Vegas won the first one 5-2, and Winnipeg took the next one 7-4.

In fact, the Jets mustered just four shots in the third period. Fortunately for them, the last one was off Connor’s stick and into the net. The rookie has 17 goals this season and has scored in two straight games.

The overtime was a different story, with both teams trading numerous chances. The Jets did everything but score on two occasions — the puck was lying in the crease with bodies flying everywhere and Haula appeared to make a brilliant save with his backside — and then Hellebuyck stopped Nate Schmidt on a breakaway before Perron ended it.

Winnipeg returns to action Saturday night when they host the Colorado Avalanche in the third game of their season-long 10-game homestand.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

History

Updated on Thursday, February 1, 2018 11:16 PM CST: Writethru

Updated on Friday, February 2, 2018 7:44 AM CST: Video added.

Updated on Friday, February 2, 2018 7:54 AM CST: Tweets added.

Updated on Friday, February 2, 2018 11:02 AM CST: Name fixed.

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