Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Last night was different. Last night was the kind of game that makes you crazy, that makes you start to ask disturbing questions about the role of the officials in a playoff hockey game. Last night's officiating was a crime against hockey and the only question in my mind now is: was it intentional? On it's face the idea that an NHL referee would purposely manipulate the game to favor one team over another is ludicrous. The competitive integrity of professional sports leagues is pretty much all that separates them from bush league "sports entertainment" acts like "professional" wrestling. Logic dictates that there would simply be too much at stake for even a megalomaniac like Gary Bettman to "fix" a playoff game. You could of course always have a rogue referee who's manipulating the game for his own purposes but the presence of 4 on ice officials in every game makes even that scenario implausible. No folks, the truth is that the officiating in last night's game was likely a function of pure incompetence; it only looked like the fix was in because all of the key calls happened to go against the Red Wings.
Bryan Bickell clearly strikes Smith in the face with a high stick while a linesman is skating 5 feet away and staring directly at the play. The high stick doesn't excuse Smith completely forgetting how to play defense a few moments later but the puck wouldn't have even been in Detroit's zone if the linesman had simply called the clear penalty in front of him. Things didn't improve as the period wore on. The next Blachawks goal was registered less than 5 minutes later while play was allowed to continue after Chicago was clearly offside. Now before you jump down my throat and scream that Franzen played the puck into the zone a second time I'm going to ask you to watch the video of the play. Did you see it? At roughly 0:05 of the video Marian Hossa touches the puck outside of the zone while both he and Toews are still inside the zone. That's offside folks and it doesn't matter at all what happens afterwards when Franzen and Bickell battle for the puck. Once again the fault for the actual goal lies with Brendan Smith; he doesn't work hard enough to make Bickell uncomfortable in front of the net and makes the mistake of trying to play the puck instead. Smith had by all measurements a brutal night in game 6 but there's absolutely no question that referees Dan O'Halloran and Chris Rooney did him no favors on either of these goals.
In what felt like the blink of an eye the Wings were suddenly down 3-2 on home ice after back to back terrible calls by the officials lead to defensive breakdowns later in the play. If you had asked me to rate the officiating in this game at that point the only word I could possibly have come up with is "atrocious". In the immortal words of Bachman Turnver Overdrive, "baby you ain't seen nothing yet." At 9:43 of the third period referee Chris Rooney took it upon himself to decide an NHL playoff hockey game and potentially the entire series. Needless to say I'm with Jimmy Howard and former Blackhawk Eddie Olczyk in thinking that there is basically no way on God's green earth that a penalty shot should have been awarded in this situation. If you watch the video you will see that Colaiacovo taps Frolik's stick (not his hand) with his stick as he's attempting to close the distance between himself and the cruising forward. This is the type of play you will see dozens of times without a penalty call in an NHL match and in fact this very game itself was chock full of similar examples. What Carlo does here is what he's been taught to do his entire life by defensive coaches who are specifically trying not to give up the breakaway. Frankly I'm not sure this would have been a penalty shot in peewee hockey so the fact that Rooney would call it here, during the crucial moments of an NHL playoff game completely boggles my mind. Naturally Frolik scored easily on the ensuing penalty shot and after a too little, too late Brunner goal it eventually stood as the game winner. Late in the game while Detroit was struggling to generate offense there was also a phantom penalty against Pavel Datsyuk and an at least questionable call against Zetterberg. At the time neither call made me particularly angry because the damage had already been done but in retrospect they were also pretty relevant in light of Brunner's goal.
once went into the stands to beat a fan with a shoe. He's also the same Mike Milbury who ran the Islanders into the ground and who's major claim to fame is trading Zdeno Chara plus a first round draft pick that would eventually become Jason Spezza for Alexei Yashin. In other words; I think we have more than enough evidence to suggest that Mike Milbury may not be possessed of the wisdom of Solomon and he definitely isn't a paragon of good judgement. Finally, while I can't confirm it I hear somewhere out there Franz Baader and Josef Kompalla thought it was an excellent call and would have given Jimmy Howard a 10 minute misconduct for threatening gestures for good measure.
In the final analysis it's fair to say that the Wings didn't play well enough to win Game 6 and close out the series against Chicago. There were a number of defensive breakdowns that lead to Hawks goals and the team failed to display enough offensive urgency as the 3rd period wore on. If the Wings had played the entire game like they played the last minute and a half they would surely be preparing for the Western Conference finals right now. These facts however don't excuse the absolutely pathetic display of officiating that also contributed to the Wing's downfall. Well, at least the television networks are happy right? Who doesn't love a game 7?
- The Sportsball Chic