By LOU KORAC
CHICAGO -- As the Blues prepare to play a critical Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks today (2 p.m., NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM), to finally put the issue to rest, NHL Senior Director of Operations Kay Whitmore spoke to a pool reporter and explained the league's decisions on the video reviews that went against the Blues in Game 2.
"We get the linesman over, both of them, to look at the monitor on the ice and start feeding them all the replays that we have. We had two on the bench side on the high glass, and two on the blueline last night, so four across the blueline total, plus the program feeds and the instant replays coming from broadcasts. You're showing them everything you can possibly to give them the most information possible to make the correct call.
"Last night, we're obviously looking to make sure when the puck enters the zone, when he entered the zone and whether his skate was in the air or on the ice. It took a couple of angles to get both of details in, so it wasn't just one thing you're looking at. You want to make sure the puck becomes part of the offensive zone, prior to him entering, and then noticing that his skate is off the ice at the same time, we were able to give the linesman enough information for them to overturn their original call."
Verdict was his skate was off the ice?
Closest offsides replay you've seen?
"Yeah, I think when we started to add the cameras, and knowing that they're straight across the blueline so you don't get fooled by different angles from the higher cameras, you were hoping that it would make it easier. But we had a lot of difficult ones during the season with a skate in the air. This one with the proximity of the puck to the zone and the skate in the air, it's one of the tougher ones we've seen. You take as much time to get as many angles, because sometimes you're at the mercy of the broadcast to see if they can give you just one more great shot. But at the end of the day, with the two blueline cameras on that particular blueline, plus the two program feeds and different camera angles, we were able to give them enough information that they were comfortable. As you know, it has to be conclusive to overturn a call. Anything other than that, the call would remain the same on the ice."
Blueline cameras have changed the game?
"Yeah, I think it's just more technology. Hockey Ops is just basically delivering the desires of the managers - the 30 managers implemented this rule - so we try to carry it out as efficiently as possible and using all the technology available. Obviously having the cameras right on the blueline are a big help. I think offside plays like that, you're hoping that most of the time there's not a lot of judgment, it's either black or white, but every bit of technology is going to help."
Does this open discussion among competition committee about intent of offside challenge?
"I think everyone has their opinion, but it's not our place to question the rules that are in place. We get the marching orders from managers. We'll implement them the way they told us too, as long as they stay the way they are. We just follow the process as we have all season and now with additional cameras, obviously the games are more important and things amp up, but you've still got to follow the process and do what we're told to do."
But now that you have the technology and use it, how do you go back?
"I think that's the thing. Once you open Pandora's Box, it's onside or offside. Like I said, that's our job to look at what's available and render a verdict, to help the linesmen render their verdict. There's always going to be discussions about all kinds of rules. Maybe there will be, maybe there won't down the road, but it's one way or another. There's the odd time where in the past they have been inconclusive, but we were conclusive. The technology available provided us with what we needed. People can debate that all they want, but right now the rules are the rules, and if it's offside, it has to be called. That's just the way it's got to be."
"We saw a player going in to get a loose puck and playing a rebound and trying to score a goal. The officials - Dan (O'Rourke) and Chris (Lee) - they deemed it to be a hockey play where there was a loose puck and when he was trying to score a goal, there was some contact with the goalie with his stick and the puck in the pad, and then the puck went over the line. But they didn't deem that he pushed the pad out of the way. They deemed that it was a normal attempt to score a hockey goal and that any other contact with the shoulder or the goaltender's helmet came after the puck had already gone by the goaltender. They looked at the program feeds from a couple of different angles and then slow motion and then they looked at the overhead. They didn't feel there was a better call than the one they had originally made based on what they saw. When they saw it again, it re-enforced their first call. It was just a player playing hockey going in there to score a goal."
Was goalie interference call black and white?
"I think with goaltenders interference, there's obviously a little more judgment, where they look at different criteria and what's going on around. There's a rebound, he's being pushed in by the defenseman, so maybe he can't stop the contact, but then the contact comes after. There's a lot more factors involved in goaltenders interference, I think, so you have to look at a few other things. I wouldn't say it was cut and dry by any means. It's a tough play. Over the course of the regular season, there's been a lot of those plays where some nights it goes one way or the other, but they saw their original call in this instance was a good hockey goal and they felt the same way after they got all the camera angles."
Time delay during reviews?
"There's a lot of experience with our (officials) and the guys in the Situation Room. You're very cognizant of momentum in a game when these play happen. It's a different feeling when you're in the building than when you're in the Situation Room, but at the end of the day, until they put a time limit on it or they change the way the process is, our mandate is basically to ignore everything else and just get this right. Do it obviously in a timely fashion but sometimes the angles that broadcasts show don't come right away, we have to wait for some of those. We can control the overhead, we can control the in-net, the in-crossbar, all those different ones that we have. But sometimes there is other angles that you want to make sure. We're conscious of the time it takes, and yeah, you definitely can take the air out of a building sometimes. But it's a better alternative than waking up the next day and the call was wrong, that's for sure."
Feeling on embellishment call (Robby Fabbri)?
"That's a question for the official that made the call. Like any other penalty during a game, it's a judgment call. Normally I comment on the process of the coaches' challenge, but not on individual penalty calls. We'll be debating that all year and all night long because a lot of things happen in a hockey game. These officials are the best in the world, and what they see and what they call, that's the way it is basically."
The Blues have moved on, but the biggest complaint, according to center Paul Stastny, was the length of time.
"The worst part is it took so long," Stastny said. "That kind of deflates the whole rhythm of the game. And then you go from thinking you're up 2-1, then they review it ... I don't know, it seemed like seven, eight minutes and then all of the sudden, they score a goal and they review that. They get the OK from Toronto before the challenge and then we challenge and then there's another seven or eight minutes. I think the game's changed so much, I guess that's the only downside to the challenges. You don't mind them for certain reasons, but you want to get an answer in 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes, quick; almost like a quick timeout basically. But it's always a game of inches and we just kind of shake it off and look forward to Game 3."
The Blues have been good at parking adversity; they've done it all season with the slew of injuries they've dealt with.
But according to coach Ken Hitchcock, "We need the playing field to be a little bit more equal. That's on us, too. We can't allow them to have more power plays; it's not a good formula for success. We've got to have everything as equal as we can to have success against this team. They're a great hockey club. They've got a lot of elements that are championship elements, so for us, the playing field has to be as equal as we can make it. It's scoring chances, it's shots on goal, it's penalties, it's everything. We need that to be as equal as we can. That's on us. We've got to help ourselves by not going in the box, keeping it 5-on-5 and building to our strengths because we feel like 5-on-5, we've got a deep team, but we need the deep part of our lineup to be able to play and contribute. You've got to play 5-on-5 to do that."
- - -
Now that the has moved to United Center for Games 3 and 4, the tactical matchups favor Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
At least Blues Hitchcock believes so.
The Stanley Cup Playoff series is tied 1-1, and Hitchcock felt he got exactly what he wanted out of the matchups on home ice. Now it's Quenneville's turn.
"It's going to be big," Hitchcock said. "We're going to have to fight through it. I got what I wanted there and Joel's going to get what he wants. What he wants, I don't want. He's got a defined matchup.
"Unless he changes changes from what he did in the regular season, he's got a defined matchup that he likes. They've obviously had success playing us a few times like this. We're going to have to fight through it because we're not a good team when we're flying people on and off the ice and changing on the fly. We're a better flow team, we're a better zone matchup team than we are individual match. I think both of us are better that way. We're just going to have to get the guys to go out against what he wants and then we're going to have to outplay them."
Quenneville downplayed that notion, sort of.
"I think there's always subtle changes, whether it's what can you do on the power play or kill penalties," Quenneville said. "... Probably sometimes you can notice something, but at the end of the day, we expect the intensity to ratchet up every game."
When the two teams met in the first round in 2014, the Blues came into this building with a 2-0 series lead and it was imperative for the Blackhawks to at least win one, or take both games en route to a 4-2 series win. The tides have turned slightly, and two wins on home ice would put the Blackhawks in a terrific spot.
"You want to try to take advantage of home ice and the building here," Quenneville said. "It's the first playoff game and you want to play the right way."
- - -
The lineup change for the Blues is a big one.
Steve Ott returned after missing the past 57 games with torn hamstrings sustained Dec. 5 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and most recently, a bout with Colitis.
Ott took the spot of Ryan Reaves on the fourth line.
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Petteri Lindbohm, Robert Bortuzzo and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
- - -
The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Andrew Ladd-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Richard Panik-Teuvo Teravainen-Tomas Fleischmann
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Viktor Svedberg-Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include David Rundblad, Brandon Mashinter, Dale Weise, Erik Gustafsson and Christian Ehrhoff. -- There's a possibility that the Blackhawks could insert Weise into the lineup. If so, either Panik or Desjardins will come out.