TAMPA — Remember Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final between the Bruins and Lightning? Well, that game is obviously a distant memory and not just for Nathan Horton’s game-winner, but for a free-flowing, passionate and exciting game that featured zero penalties. Yes, zero.
Sure, the officials could have made a penalty call here or there, but any critique of missed calls was nitpicky at best. No game has been better officiated since.
Fast forward seven years later. The tight officiating throughout the playoffs has put a dent into the free-flowing and passionate event that is postseason hockey. Game 2 of the Bruins-Lightning series was arguably one of the worst officiated contests in quite some time.
Oh, where to begin on this one. How about a ticky-tack slashing call on Torey Krug that led to Yanni Gourde’s power-play tally at 11:47 (scroll down further for the full video).
There was a makeup call with Tyler Johnson on Brad Marchand moments later.
That wasn’t enough, eh? Well, let’s look at a sequence of events early in the third period where Kevan Miller boarded Brayden Point. Perhaps he could have gotten a major for this dangerous hit, but again there isn’t much to argue here.
This led to Anton Stralman’s retaliatory hit on Miller and matching minors for Krug and Gourde. Okay, that should even things out right?
That was hardly the case.
Miller hits Point from behind pic.twitter.com/HR0x5b2jsV
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 1, 2018
Nearly four minutes after the Miller sequence, David Pastrnak made his way to the box to serve a double-minor for high-sticking. One problem here. He lifted Victor Hedman’s stick following a faceoff in the Bruins’ attacking end. The call didn’t come back to haunt Bruins immediately as they killed off the four-minute power play to keep the Bolts lead at 2-1 midway through the third period.
Victor Hedman high sticks himself. Cool. pic.twitter.com/EaBN5CYPTG
— #2 WINGELS FAN (@bruinshockeynow) May 1, 2018
The biggest head-scratcher of the night, however, came at a pivotal time with the Bruins pushing for the equalizer. With a golden chance to tie things up, Stralman slashed Brad Marchand on the hand during a breakaway attempt late in the final stanza. Instead of a late power play opportunity, or a chance for Marchand to tie the game on a penalty shot, the officials swallowed the whistle at the worst time especially after calling Krug for a similar infraction earlier.
“At the end of the day,” Bruce Cassidy said postgame, “I think the breakaway, I think that should be called. In my estimation, I disagree with the non-call and I think when you hit him on the hands and he clearly loses possession of the puck that is an infraction.”
“That is kind of play that was called earlier in the game,” a frustrated Marchand added. “They call that all year, it was a slash up around the hands and that should have been an automatic penalty shot, let alone a penalty.”
This might sound like sour grapes to some reading this column. It isn’t.
I cannot recall any point where the head-scratching officiating made as big of an impact as it has in this year’s postseason. We might copy and paste this statement at his time next year, or further down the road this spring. Stay tuned.
In other words, all eight remaining playoff teams are feeling the wrath of these calls. Just ask the Patric Hornqvist and the Pittsburgh Penguins after getting robbed of a key goal in Game 2 against the Washington Capitals. Somehow, video review couldn’t confirm the play, but as you can see, the puck clearly crossed the goal-line.
Controversial no goal call in Washington pic.twitter.com/OILVg90V38
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 29, 2018
Tom Wilson delivered a dangerous hit to the head to Brian Dumoulin in that same Pittsburgh-Washington tilt. The Pens defenseman and former Boston College standout left the game as a result of the vicious check. But, again, the four officials put the whistles and confirmed the non-call following a lengthy huddle.
The Tom Wilson check to the head that sent Dumoulin to the room pic.twitter.com/cbRVMLBURo
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 29, 2018
We get it, being a referee or a linesman is hard. They rarely get any credit for a well-called game and always get criticized for any missed call or ticky-tack penalty. There’s no escaping scrutiny, especially in today’s new media landscape. If you’re really looking to dig in deeper on the state of NHL officiating, Scouting the Refs is a great reference point for starters.
There’s one example of how a game can flow fluidly without much interference from the officials. Just go to YouTube and search Bruins-Lightning Game 7 highlights from 2011. That nostalgia should be enough to get you through the day before the B’s and Bolts resume their 2018 series Wednesday night at TD Garden.