It’s hard to feel bad for the Capitals after phantom penalty thwarts comeback attempt

When trying to mount a comeback late in a hockey game, the only thing worse than taking a stupid penalty is taking an undeserved penalty.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, they got hit with the latter in Game 4 on Wednesday night. It hurt them, they lost, and now have their backs against the wall three games to one.

With that being said, it’s pretty hard to feel bad for the Caps.

Sure, it was a very bad call — there’s no arguing that — and you hate to see bad calls affect the outcome of a crucial playoff game, but this one didn’t feel entirely unjust.

With his team down a goal and two minutes left in the third period, Washington winger T.J. Oshie was whistled for a phantom high-stick on Nick Bonino in the corner. As you can see in this screen grab, Oshie’s stick never hit Bonino in the face. It got him in the shoulder.

Bonino did a good job selling it and, from the referee’s viewpoint (from behind), it was a tough split-second call to make on the ice.

Still, the Capitals were furious, and understandably so.

The blown call didn’t help their chances of finding a game-tying goal in a pivotal point of the series. They pulled the goalie and played out the rest of the game at five-on-five, but they came away empty-handed.

But what needs to be considered here is that, just a few minutes earlier, the referees also blew another high-sticking call. This one saw Caps forward Andre Burakovsky get Jake Guentzel in the face and open up a cut near his mouth, meaning it should have resulted in a double-minor.

Instead, the officiating crew completely missed it.

That’s not to say that the phantom call on Oshie was a conscious “make-up call” by the refs — it seems highly unlikely that any official would intentionally double-down at that point in the game.

But the way things worked out, it…almost seemed like karma?

Consider this: A similar incident happened in last year’s playoff series between the Capitals and the Penguins. And it involved the exact same players, but with the roles reversed.

With the Penguins trying to mount a comeback in the third period of Game 5, Bonino was whistled for a high-stick on Oshie, who showed off his acting chops following a stick to the midsection.

For those two players to be involved in the same sort of play with the same result in back-to-back years…I mean, what are the chances?

Oshie didn’t seem to forget that incident either. To his credit, he offered up a very level reaction after Wednesday’s crushing loss in Pittsburgh.

“Tough time to get a penalty,” Oshie said postgame, via Chris Gordon. “It’s kind of an amateur play by me there. You (have to) check your feet in those big moments.

“I didn’t think I hit him that hard, but I’ve been on the other side. The natural reaction when you get hit is your head snaps back a little bit. It’s unfortunate. Tough to be in that situation. I’m still positive we’re going to be able to pull it out, but (it’s) tough (to play) 5-on-5 with the goalie pulled.”

Should the Capitals and their fans be frustrated that a missed call burned them late in such an important game? Yes, but they should also realize that, sometimes, what goes around comes around.

Also, they should be more frustrated that this Caps team is even in a position to be burned by a missed call while playing against a Penguins team with no Sidney Crosby, no Kris Letang, no Matt Murray and no Conor Sheary.

It’s hard to come up with an excuse for that.