The only thing fans love more than a moral victory in the landscape of local sports is a good old-fashioned scapegoat referee. Minnesota Wild fans, to their simultaneous dismay and delight, got both in yesterday’s controversial Game 6 loss to the Dallas Stars.
After trailing 4-0 heading to the third period, the Wild unleashed a furious rally for the ages to pull within 5-4 in the closing seconds – there’s your moral victory. Then, with just over 30 seconds remaining, Nino Niederreiter jammed a puck through the crease and off the pad of Kari Lehtonen, whose leg was entirely behind the goal line.
While this isn’t a definitive overhead look, it appears to be across the line. The bigger issue is – and it’s unclear whether this is NBC’s fault or the NHL’s fault – we never got to see the complete overhead view. The broadcast repeatedly slowed down the shot frame-by-frame, but always stopped the feed on the freeze frame below — before the puck had stopped its forward movement into Lehtonen’s pad. Ostensibly we’ll need a Zapruder-like secret video if we ever want the complete truth.
To make the injustice complete, Dallas’s Jason Demers jumped on the loose puck in the seconds following this shot, illegally holding it with his glove – an infraction that should’ve resulted in a penalty shot. Imagine the drama that would have unfolded in that scenario.
But even in a last-minute situation, the NHL deems a held puck unreviewable, so Demers got away with his game-saving cover up. Not only did the Wild not get credited with a goal they arguably scored, but they didn’t get the penalty shot they deserved. A double whammy.
Just add Sunday’s screw-up to this long list of refereeing bungles at the expense of Minnesota teams. I’m sure you remember most of them.
Joe Mauer’s Ground-Rule Double That Wasn’t
Who could forget the egregious Phil Cuzzi goof in the 2009 ALDS? Down 1-0 in the series and already having blown a 3-1 lead in Game 2, the Twins entered the 11th inning in need of some good fortune, but they weren’t going to get it at Yankees Stadium, aka the Twins’ perpetual den of woe.
Leading off the inning, to-be MVP Joe Mauer hit a long fly ball down the left field line that not only hit the glove of Melky Cabrera but landed in fair territory by at least a foot. Cuzzi, standing no more than 20 feet away, must have taken the under on runs, because he emphatically waved it foul.
Instead of being on second base, Mauer settled for a single, which isn’t a bad alternative, but consider that the Twins got singles in their next two at-bats. Mauer would have scored for sure on one of those two hits. As it was, the Twins loaded the bases with nobody out yet failed to score. Mark Teixeira ended the game with a walk-off in the bottom half of the frame.
Phil Cuzzi, you had one job.
Favre Getting High-Lowed
It’s been replayed for years, yet it still hurts to watch – equal parts physically and emotionally. In the third quarter of a tied 2009-10 NFC Championship, Vikings QB Brett Favre got high-lowed on a late hit by Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray on a play that resulted in an interception for the Saints. Not only did Favre turn the ball over, but he badly injured his ankle on the play. It’s possible his bum ankle led to his decision not to run with the ball on his more infamous second interception, but that’s a different bunny trail completely.
The NFL acknowledged the referees’ mistake after the game and has been cracking down on quarterback safety in the years since. But in a game where the Vikings had just one too many turnovers, this one should have been reversed.
(For more officiating missteps in the Vikings-Saints game, check out my five-year retrospective that I wrote in 2015.)
Joe Webb Facemasked
Well, at least this one didn’t have a season-altering impact. In fact, it indirectly helped the Vikings land a top-three draft pick. But this missed facemask as time expired in Detroit during the 2011 season was comical. (Not the last time Ford Field would see facemask drama.)
Why not revisit Game 2 of the Wild-Stars series? In a scoreless game, agitator Antoine Roussel deflected/kicked the puck over the back of the net and onto Devan Dubnyk, who pinched the puck against the crossbar with his back and dislodged the net. Ruled no goal on the ice, officials credited Dallas with the goal after review, claiming the dislodged cage was a moot point since Dubnyk knocked it off himself.
Be that as it may, the prevailing opinion was that Roussel had intentionally kicked the puck, thereby nullifying the goal, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Once again, the Wild could have been saved by one or two different rule interpretations, but a controversial goal awarded to Dallas turned out to be the difference in the game.
Nobody needs the context explained for this one. After 41 years, the sting of Drew Pearson’s game-winning touchdown still lingers with fans of the Purple People Eaters.
The League Screwed Us (Subcategory)
There’s another offshoot to this compilation, as I’ve titled above. Sometimes, the referees do their job properly, but the rules end up changing in the aftermath of Minnesota’s heartbreak. The scapegoat is not the ref, but rather, the league, for not changing sooner. Here are a few examples.
The Home Field Advantage Coin Flip
Remember when the Twins were forced to play in Chicago for the 2008 version of Game 163? Despite winning the season series over the White Sox 10-9, Minnesota lost an MLB-sanctioned coin flip that forced them to play the game on the road. After having swept the Sox at the Metrodome a week prior, the Twins certainly would’ve enjoyed playing the tiebreaker at home.
MLB would change the rule the following season.
The One Foot Down Rule
Week 17, 2003, the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs on the final play of the regular season when Nate Poole caught a pass in the corner of the end zone, got one foot down, then was pushed out by Denard Walker and Brian Russell.
The refs were right. It was a touchdown. At the time, defensive backs weren’t allowed to push a player out who would have otherwise gotten both feet down. The rule was changed in 2008 – five years too late for the Vikings.
Just two years ago, Wild fans were fretting over a different non-call – an apparent offsides that led to a Colorado Avalanche game-tying goal with an empty net in Game 5 of a 2-2 series.
While the play was probably too close to call in the moment, it would have been reviewed and overturned in today’s NHL with offsides calls now eligible to be challenged.
Colorado eventually won that game in overtime.
New Overtime Rules
After losing the ’09 NFC Championship Game in overtime without ever possessing the ball, the Vikings’ demise led to change in NFL’s sudden-death overtime structure. The league made a move to modified overtime, where a touchdown was required to win a game outright on the opening possession. Make this change a year earlier, NFL, and Favre gets a chance to rewrite history.