Prior to the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs veteran National Hockey League analyst Don Cherry made a prediction that struck as a bit odd at the time. Cherry, who made the comments on his own podcast, seemed to be overly concerned about the fact that NHL officials would not be in playoff mode for lack of a better mode and would end up calling a lot of questionable penalties. Cherry stated flatly that it was the one thing he felt that could knock the wind out of the NHL's sails, and frankly I think his prediction has proven to be somewhat on the nose.
NHL ratings have taken a significant hit when compared to last season and although there are a number of factors that have caused this, not the least of which is the fact that the season was forced to go on pause for several months, but I suspect that poor officiating has been among those. Last night was Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars and unfortunately one of the biggest topics coming out of that game was once again the poor officiating delivered by the league's referees.
In this particular case it is referee Kelly Sutherland who has come under fire and perhaps the somewhat unique thing this time around is that the heat on Sutherland is coming from both teams and their respective fan bases. Stars head coach Rick Bowness was not happy about the overtime penalty call against Jamie Benn, one that would lead to a power play for the Lightning that resulted in the game winning goal.
"I saw two guys going for a loose puck," said Bowness following the game. "Their guy hooking our guy and our guy trying to fight through the hook. It was two guys going for a loose puck, it was a hockey play., that's what I saw. I looked at the play a couple of times and it is two guys in the playoffs who are going for a loose puck. They are hooking us and we are fighting through the hook, that's what I saw."
If you missed it, here are a couple of angles:
Unsurprisingly Joe Pavelski of the Stars had similar thoughts to share on the subject of that penalty.
"The refs got a tough job," admitted Pavelski before adding, "I see it. It's in front of Kelly, he's got a great look at it, the back ref calls it. I don't have a ton of time for a play where Tyler Johnson steps in front of Jamie Benn and has no real effect on the play. Jamie breaths on him and the guy falls over. Whether that's the case or not, there's a little battle going on there. Playoffs, it's overtime, we expect 5 on 5. We expect to battle it out."
The Stars though we're not the only team unhappy with the officiating on Friday night. There was a moment during the game's third period when you could audibly hear Lightning forward Patrick Maroon call out Kelly Sutherland after a penalty call. Here's the replay of that incident.
The worst call of the night though has to be the one made against Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point. As if getting hooked in the nuts isn't bad enough, Point was awarded a penalty for "embellishment" after quite literally taking Corey Perry's stick to his groin area. Not only is this one of the worst embellishment calls I've ever seen, but it happened at a pivotal moment in a pivotal game during the Stanley Cup Final.
Is the criticism justified? Should the league hold it's officials accountable? Let us know your thoughts in the comemnts.