BOSTON − Sometimes, the video is hard to decipher. And sometimes, it shows an official blowing a call in hard-to-believe fashion in full high definition.
Such was the case Saturday night in TD Garden, as Brad Marchand scored on a penalty shot gifted by referee Brad Watson with 2:28 left in overtime to give the Boston Bruins a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
After intercepting a Rasmus Ristolainen pass just outside the Buffalo blue line, Marchand tried to break into the Sabres’ zone. Ristolainen closed from Marchand’s left rear and the Boston center quickly lifted the Buffalo defenseman’s stick out of his hands into the air as the puck slid ahead of the pair. Ristolainen tried to put his right arm on Marchand and appeared to miss him before landing a two-hand shove to the back as goaltender Robin Lehner poke-checked the puck away.
Watson’s arm went up to signal a penalty and the Sabres were stunned to see him point to center ice. Marchand scored on the backhand and Lehner was among several Sabres barking at the officials after the goal ended the game. The goaltender even chucked his helmet to the ice in disgust.
The Sabres’ contention, backed by the replay, was that Ristolainen did not even commit a penalty, let alone an infraction to cause a penalty shot.
Lehner sat stone-faced and stunned at his locker for several minutes. He then tried to keep his composure with reporters by speaking in quiet, measured tones. But his words said volumes.
“I’m an honest guy. I like both of those refs,” he said referring to Watson and Dave Jackson. “They’re good refs but that was ... oh, my God I don’t know what to say even. That’s just embarrassing. I hope he’s embarrassed. I’m embarrassed. It shouldn’t end like that. The disappointing thing is I might get fined or whatever but it’s just embarrassing.”
The Sabres’ bigger point of contention was that Jamie McGinn was not awarded a penalty shot when cut on a breakaway by Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg with 7:13 left and the game tied at 1-1. Seidenberg did receive a tripping penalty but Buffalo could not score on the power play.
“We’re talking about a sequence of events where Jamie McGinn had not even a similar play,” said Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma. “It’s a guy leaving his feet, taking him down on a breakaway. ... There’s no separation on the last play. Rasmus is right there with him and the judgment of the referee awards a penalty shot. I’m not sure I see it the same way.”
The lack of consistency had Bylsma burned.
“The one on McGinn, there is separation. Seidenberg clearly dives and goes down to break up the play, which he wasn’t able to do,” Bylsma said. “He took the feet out. You’d like consistency. If that wasn’t a penalty shot, I’m not sure the other one was either.”
“That’s what’s disappointing,” Lehner added. “We have McGinn going down and he’s 3 yards ahead of what Marchand was and he’s clipped. He didn’t get anything. Marchand does what he does. It wasn’t even a penalty and he calls it a penalty shot after a game like that.”
Marchand, whose goal was his team-high 24th of the season, naturally saw no problem.
“He didn’t have a stick and I think he grabbed me there,” Marchand said of Ristolainen. “... It was nice that they gave it to us. If you have a clear breakaway and he takes a penalty on you, it’s a penalty shot from what I believe.”
Ristolainen, for his part, gritted his teeth and took the high road, preferring to focus on his turnover.
“Bad play by me,” he said. “They got a penalty shot and scored a goal.”
Asked if he was surprised at the call, Ristolainen said, “I don’t want to talk about that. I shouldn’t have made the bad play before. I didn’t think anything. I was just thinking my bad play shouldn’t happen.
“He cut the pass and he went for a breakaway. You have to be careful with the puck and I wasn’t careful.”
Marchand burned Lehner on a backhand to give the Bruins a sweep of the home-and-home series, with both games going past 60 minutes. Boston won Thursday’s game at First Niagara Center in a shootout and this one appeared headed there as well as Lehner and Tuukka Rask were solid in a game featuring 38 shots on goal by each side.
“It was a helluva game. It was going to go to a real shootout,” Lehner said. “It’s just inconsistent. In a game like that, you don’t call it. That’s what he did with a few minutes left and McGinn going down. He didn’t call it and that was a penalty shot. That’s 100 percent a penalty shot. He was far behind and he tripped him. Marchand was barely ahead, just lays down and it’s a penalty shot. Yeah, it’s embarrassing.”
“It’s one we battled for, battled hard for,” Bylsma said. “It was a hard-fought game. There was some give and take from the referee. This one feels like he takes it away from you.”