Supplement to Game Four review
"There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, 'Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn't believe it.'" ~ from the movie Magnolia
So what do we make of the officiating spectacle witnessed at the Bell Centre tonight?
As you know, I rarely make mention of the referees, expecting an occasional mistake. But, it was hard to ignore them tonight. Refereeing was not only a subtext but was almost the feature attraction.
I write 'almost' because if not for the third period heroics of the Canadiens, officiating would be the only thing we talked about afterward.
How bad was it? In a word, pathetic!
Eric Furlatt and Paul Devorski invoked memories of Josef Kompalla against Team Canada by delivering one the worst officiating performances in recent playoff memory.
Sometimes, referees miss calls on both sides, don't see infractions behind the play, or are inconsistent. None of those apply. It was much worse.
The penalties that they missed were blatant and went against the Canadiens exclusively. Not only did the officials choose not to call penalties, the consequences led to goals for the Penguins.
It started early in the first period after the Canadiens opening the scoring.
Ruslan Fedetenko hogged-tied P.K. Subban at the Pittsburgh blueline, springing Maxime Talbot for a break-away and a Penguins goal to tie it. Only 27 seconds later, Hal Gill was sent off with a questionable call. On the ensuing power-play, Sidney Crosby hooked down Roman Hamrlik but the play went on resulting in a goal for Chris Kunitz.
It was a huge momentum swing, and unfortunately the referees got the assist.
There was more. Mark Eaton clothes-lined Andrei Kostitsyn knocking him to the ice. No call. As the first period ended, Hal Gill was penalized when he tried to check Crosby and his stick blade broke. The penalty was not called until Crosby appealed to the closest official.
And that was just the first period. When Evgeni Malkin took the Penguins first penalty mid-way through the second period, the Bell Centre fans rose and cheered.
Think of the relative sizes of the players and you will understand how silly a penalty is on Brian Gionta for boarding Brooks Orpik.
Fans were stunned at what they saw in the third period. Jordan Leopold wasn't called for interference for holding Scott Gomez but seconds later Mathieu Darche was sent off when he collided with Talbot. On the Pittsburgh power-play, Crosby broke Tomas Plekanec's stick off the face-off, but was not penalized. Remember Gill's penalty in the first period?
There were other obvious non-calls throughout the game. Here's a sample: Alexei Ponikarovsky put Travis Moen's head into the boards with a hit from behind; Kostitsyn was tripped by Malkin; Subban was hooked to the ice by Crosby; Alex Goligoski interfered with Moen and Crosby slashed Kostitsyn.
So what to make of it all? Was it an off night for Devorski and Furlatt? How is it that all the calls went against the Canadiens?
Some claim that the NHL has an agenda. I'm not one of them.
Earlier in the playoffs, Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the issue of the league having a preference of which teams advanced.
"Let's get something straight—I have complete confidence in the integrity and professionalism and judgment of my hockey operations department. Period. I think this whole tact of innuendo and insinuation is both insulting and pure fantasy," scoffed Bettman.
So that settles it, right?
The problem is that the words came from the same smug commissioner who says that attendance has increased, TV ratings are soaring, no ownership problems exist, and there's a solid fanbase for NHL hockey in the desert.
Is anyone believing those statements?
I don't know what to say to the tinfoil hat brigade, other than I'm not with you. Yet. But, I'm at a loss to explain such a pitiful display of officiating by professional NHL referees. It was unbelievable and a huge disgrace to the integrity of the game.
I've suggested this before, but was reminded of it again tonight. Wouldn't you prefer a postgame interview with referees Devorski and Furlatt rather than the usual boring drivel from the coaches? Unfortunately, it's a wish that will never be granted.
If the NHL does have an objective review system of the officials, we won't see Devorski and Furlatt in the next round of the playoffs. But that feels like little consolation tonight.
It's the Canadiens who deserve kudos for enduring the nonsense of the refereeing and mounting a huge comeback against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Supplement to Game Four review