It's been a while since the Blackhawks last played a regular season game at the United Center that had playoff-type vibes. Wednesday was exactly that.
National television. Original Six matchup. Superstars on both sides. One team fighting for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The other battling for a playoff berth. The intensity was high.
And it got much higher in the third period.
The story of the game for the Blackhawks was supposed to be how they responded from a sluggish effort in Minnesota 24 hours earlier. Instead, the Blackhawks and the entire city of Chicago are having a difficult time getting over some questionable officiating late in the game that didn't go in their favor and robbed them of a potential extra point that could have serious implications in the standings at the end of the season.
With 1:05 left in the third period of a 1-1 tie, Drake Caggiula scooped up the puck in the neutral zone from a falling down Olli Maatta, entered the offensive zone, and fired a snapshot past the right shoulder of Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The sold-out crowd of 21,472 erupted. So did the Blackhawks bench.
Except it didn't count.
After Caggiula touched the puck, the officials blew the whistle but nobody in the arena heard. The call was a hand pass, although looking at the replay, it sure looked like Maatta got a piece of the puck on his stick blade that should've negated the hand pass.
Goal or no goal? pic.twitter.com/dMESFxq2d0— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) February 6, 2020
The go-ahead goal was wiped out, the fans voiced their extreme displeasure and the Blackhawks were left feeling robbed after losing 2-1 in overtime.
"It's tough," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It's disappointing. But there will be another night where we come out on the other end of it. These things have a way of evening out. But it's just disappointing because it would've been a big two points for our team."
After the game, Jonathan Toews said the referees admitted to the team that they made a "mistake." The NHL has not yet commented with an official statement.
"They made a mistake, blew the whistle," Colliton said. "Not much you can say after that. It's done."
It wasn't the only call the Blackhawks were unhappy about.
Zack Smith was sent to the box with 2:26 left in regulation for delivering an illegal check to the head on Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. Right off the faceoff, Patrice Bergeron cross-checked Ryan Carpenter in the face that went uncalled. And after giving the officials an ear full on his way to the bench, Carpenter was assessed a 10-minute misconduct and essentially thrown out of the game.
The Blackhawks were already playing shorthanded after Adam Boqvist suffered a right shoulder injury in the second period that isn't believed to be serious and were then forced to kill off a penalty against the second-ranked Bruins power play without one of their best penalty killers.
"He's not reacting for no reason," Toews said. "I'm not going to get into the officials. I think there's even the call on Smitty there. If it's a hit to the head, why is [Krug] not going to the quiet room? He's out there on the power play right now. At least they called the dive on [David] Pastrnak, thought that was another one there too. You get hit in the head, that's tough, you don't to see that, but there's a way you're supposed to deal with that."
It's an emotional game and the stakes were high. The Blackhawks have a right to feel the way they're feeling. They did their best to stay composed, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
"It is what it is," Toews said. "I think we can do a better job, myself especially, of not getting frustrated and focusing on the calls that go against us. It's going to happen. Just have to stay in the game."
The good news is, the Blackhawks didn't come away empty-handed. They've picked up at least a point in eight of their past nine games (6-1-2) and that's crucial at this time of year.
"All in all, that’s one of the best teams in the league there and we stuck with it," said Robin Lehner, who stopped 38 of 40 shots for a save percentage of .950. "We hung with them and it could have easily been us that had the win today. There’s definitely some growth."
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