The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Picture it: April 23, 2019, Game 7 in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. It is the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Knights are up 3-0 in the third period. The winner of the game that night moves on to face the Colorado Avalanche in the second round. It looks as though the Golden Knights will be sending the Sharks home early in the playoffs.
Then, it happened out of nowhere. Then-captain Joe Pavelski goes down. Knights center Cody Eakin pushed him, and Pavelski hit his head on the ice. The refs then called Eakin for a five-minute major penalty for cross-checking.
Little did the Sharks know that after this, an incredible comeback was about to happen. Let’s look back at all four goals they scored in those five minutes.
Throughout the power play, the penalty was being scrutinized. As was said, Eakin received a five-minute major for a cross-check on Pavelski. Some writers from The Athletic had a roundtable discussion on this play, and one writer, Jesse Granger, gave some information that explains why this could’ve potentially been controversial.
“…coach Gerard Gallant said he was told by referees that Eakin cross-checked Pavelski in the face. Neither of which actually happened. Penalties should be called when the referees see them on the ice, not based on the aftermath of something they missed.”From ‘Roundtable reaction: Did officials make the right call with Cody Eakin cross-check against Joe Pavelski?’ The Athletic, 4/24/19
He was saying earlier that the refs never held up their hands signaling a penalty. Instead, they huddled together and decided after the fact to award the penalty to San Jose, as well as eject Eakin.
We see this often in football, but the refs usually huddle together after throwing the flag. And they discuss what the penalty should be, instead of if there was a penalty to begin with.
In response to the fact that Pavelski was pushed, the USA Hockey Rulebook gives its rule on cross-checking.
“Cross-checking is the action of using the shaft of the stick between the two hands to forcefully check an opponent with no portion of the stick on the ice.”
Notice that nowhere do they say a specific place, either the face or the body. With that said, one can infer that cross-checking is universal to the whole body, so the penalty should stand, right?
To add one more note on this, the league did contact former GM George McPhee after the fact.
Goal #1: Logan Couture Assisted by Kevin Labanc and Tomas Hertl
This goal was scored by Logan Couture a stunning six seconds into the power play.
There was an Erik Karlsson pass that deflected off of Tomas Hertl, who passed it to Kevin Labanc, who then fed it to Couture near the left faceoff circle for the goal.
Goal #2: Hertl, Assisted by Labanc and Karlsson
They scored the second goal just around 50 seconds later.
It was a Labanc pass from behind the net to Karlsson, who took the shot from just over the blue line, which Hertl then tipped into the net. Hertl followed it up with a celebration by sliding on one knee toward the Sharks bench.
Goal #3: Couture, Assisted by Brent Burns and Labanc
A few minutes later, this game is TIED.
It was a very long series of events that led to this goal. Eventually, however, Labanc made a back pass to Brent Burns, who quickly gives it to Couture, and he shoots it in from just around the same area that he scored his first one. He then holds his hands out on the side of him, in a sigh of relief that they tied the game.
Goal #4: Labanc, Assisted by Timo Meier
Just a few seconds after the faceoff, the puck moves to Meier, who wrapped it out to Labanc. He then moves into the right faceoff circle and made a beautiful wrist shot for the goal. Labanc then celebrates along the boards while the bench jumped around in jubilation.
52 seconds later, the power play was over, ending an incredible series of events. To think that five minutes before, the SAP center was dead silent. After those four goals, however, the vibe was electric and stayed electric for the rest of the game.
In an article on NHL.com after that game, Joe Thornton gave his reaction to that power play, and how they were able to pull it off.
“…the boys, they got together and they said, ‘This is for Pav… we love him. It was just a matter of will, and we willed that one for him.”
There are many stories when athletes play their best after tragedies like that take place, and this moment fits the standard.
This moment in Sharks history was so iconic, there was a t-shirt made to commemorate it. A site called Carraway Clothing made the shirt, featuring the 3-0 score on the front, and then the final of the game on the back of the shirt. It is aptly titled “The Comeback.”
Those four goals will live in infamy for Knights fans. But for Sharks fans, they will forever see it not only as “the comeback,” but as one of the best playoff moments in their history.