On Wednesday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets were screwed out of at least a point, maybe even a rare victory. There's no denying that.
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty's game-winning goal at 0:00.4 of the third period came after the game clock was frozen at 1.8 seconds, for what the Jackets claim was at least one full second; or enough time to capture the four distinct images of goalie Curtis Sanford seen above.
It was an embarrassment for the league, to the point where the video review wasn't even addressed on NHL.com's Situation Room Blog on Thursday morning.
It's the kind of thing that calls the integrity of these games into question. The NHL fined John Tortorella $30,000 for a hyperbolic tantrum about the officiating at the Winter Classic because it "challenged the integrity of the league, its officials and its broadcast partners," according to Colin Campbell.
So what happens to the Los Angeles Kings and their game operations staff for this mess?
Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson addressed the matter on his official team site blog Thursday morning, revealing both his outrage and that Campbell promised Howson that the league will look into what happened in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
Howson said he spoke with Campbell, a senior vice president of hockey operations for the NHL, twice on Wednesday night. Campbell confirmed that the clock on the screen in television replays of the goal is in fact the official in-arena clock and not that of the broadcaster:
Howson said Campbell "confirmed that we were actually seeing the official game clock stop for one full second" and "has promised me that the NHL will investigate this to try and figure out how this happened." Howson, who wasn't in attendance at the game, has his own suspicions:
"It is an amazing coincidence that with the Kings on a power play at STAPLES Center and with a mad scramble around our net in the dying seconds of the third period of a 2-2 hockey game that the clock stopped for at least one full second. I can only think of two ways in which this would have happened. Either there was a deliberate stopping of the clock or the clock malfunctioned."
The Columbus GM acknowledged that the Blue Jackets are a last-place team and this loss "likely not going to affect our place in the standings." (Hell, it should actually help them Fail for Nail).
But he later explained why this controversy means something to his team and to the Western Conference:
"We will never know if we should have had one point or two points in the standings. What we do know is that we should not have had zero. Anyone who has competed at a high level of sports knows that when you put everything into a game, the result matters. And to have the result altered unfairly stings.
"In addition, this result matters to every other team in the Western Conference that is competing with Los Angeles for a playoff spot. We will never know if the Kings would have got the extra point in overtime or shootout, but they may not have. This extra point in the standings could have an enormous impact both competitively and economically. What if the Kings make the playoffs by one point or gain home ice advantage by one point? We could be talking about a team not making the playoffs and missing out on millions of dollars in playoff gates. No one can ever convince me that this result does not matter."
Considering that the No. 4 through No. 8 seeds in the Western Conference last season were separated by two points … yeah, it does matter.
It also matters because we're paying a [expletive] load of money to watch these games in person or on the television.
We do so under the assumption that the refs will blow and miss calls; we don't do so under the assumption that the clock will conveniently "malfunction" at a critical juncture of the game. It happens, for sure: The clock will start a few clicks late on a faceoff or some such. It happens in every arena. This one is just so egregious, and so critical, that it's inexcusable.
"There is nothing more important than the integrity of the game."
That was the NHL's reaction when a Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh producer willfully withheld a definitive replay from the War Room that would have validated a Philadelphia Flyers goal. He was subsequently suspended.
In this case, if it's found that someone at Staples Center willfully stopped the clock for a few moments during a Kings power play at the end of regulation, there's one clear way for the NHL to make it up to Columbus.
No, not fixing the lottery like they did for Pittsburgh: Declaring this game a regulation tie, awarding both teams a point, and playing out overtime and the shootout in the pregame before the teams meet on Thursday, March 8 in Columbus (a suggestion we share with Jesse Spector).
Again: Only if this was something deliberate rather than a malfunction, aka what we'd bet the farm on the NHL claiming it was.
UPDATE: Colin Campbell tells Pierre LeBrun, regarding any change to the outcome: "No you can't. Once the game is over, it's over.''