If you’re trying to increase the popularity of hockey, you might want to try as hard as possible to not make it suck. If you haven’t noticed, you’re now the ninth sport listed under the dropdown list on ESPN behind such fan-favorites as “Women’s College Basketball”, “ESPNU”, and, the very generic, “Racing” (not to be confused with NASCAR). The NHL has plummeted in fan support and is less marketable than ever. Still, your league is in the midst of an exciting playoff with a possible Detroit-Pittsburgh dream series in the Stanley Cup Finals. A Zetterberg/Datsyuk vs. Crosby/Malkin tag team match-up is more firepower in one series than the you could’ve ever hoped for.
Instead of allowing its fans—and the curious observer—to focus solely on the star-power that has taken over the playoffs, the NHL has given its fans every reason to tune out per usual. The latest example of good hockey sabotaged by shoddy officiating happened in game four of the Detroit/Dallas series. The game was tied 0-0 in the second period. Detroit had been playing marvelously throughout the period and had all the momentum. The Wings appeared to take the lead on a lethal shot by Pavel Datsyuk. Instead of rewarding the Wings with the goal they legitimately scored, the referee called it a no-goal because he claimed Thomas Holmstrom had been in the crease with his foot or butt or something. A quick overhead replay showed that Holmstrom didn’t have either skate—or any part of his body—in the crease when the shot came in. It was a phantom called that directly affected the outcome of the game. The score went back to 0-0 and Dallas picked up the first “official” goal of the game minutes later. Nobody knows for certain how the game would have ended but Dallas hadn’t been ahead in the series up until that point. The Wings certainly would’ve played differently with a 1-0 lead and likely would’ve put an end to the series.
(An overheard replay angle is shown at the one-minute mark.)
The biggest crime here is that the Wings were punished after playing a brilliant stretch of hockey which culminated with Datsyuk putting the puck in the net. Playoffs are about rewarding the best and the Wings were “the best”. They had dominated the second period and they capitalized on that dominance with an apparent goal. Momentum changed significantly after the goal was disallowed and the unfairness of the whole thing simply made the game unwatchable from a fan-perspective.
As if that wasn’t enough to sour the game, the Wings apparently got the puck across the goal-line for a second time but the play was blown dead on a terribly premature whistle by the referee. Once the whistle is blown, the play is dead. Nothing after the whistle can count or be overturned via replay. The ref’s early whistle meant he eliminated the possibility that the Wings had scored before he even knew what happened. I’m not saying that the play should’ve resulted in a goal. I’m not well-versed enough with the rules to know whether Pavel Datsyuk sliding into Marty Turco would’ve been grounds for a no-goal. However, the replay clearly showed that the puck had crossed the line. Instead of holding off on the whistle and going to replay to see exactly what had transpired, the referee immediately called it a no-goal and made no attempt whatsoever to see if the puck had cross the goal-line. Who wants to watch a sport where goals are arbitrarily allowed and disallowed for seemingly no justifiable reason? For the first time in a long time, I was glued to my TV watching hockey. It took all of two plays to turn me off.
The worst thing that can happen in a league is for officiating to negate a scoring play that was completed legally. Every possible measure should be taken to avoid such a catastrophe. The NHL has a gazillion cameras that hold the answer to what happened on every play. It’s unfathomable that the NHL would’ve ever thought it was a good idea to deny a booth-replay for goalie interference or crease violations. The last thing the NHL needs is for it to make its sport appear even worse than it already does. Unfortunately, that appears to be one of the things it is very good at.