TORONTO – The mixture of frustration and disappointment was palpable for the Bruins at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night as a controversial penalty call ended up being the difference in an important game with playoff implications.
Dominic Moore was whistled for interference while jostling in front of the net with Nikita Soshnikov in the final three minutes of a tied hockey game, and the inevitable, ensuing power play goal from Tyler Bozak led to a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the Bruins. The win pulled Toronto to within a point of the Bruins in the Atlantic Division and kept their playoff hopes very much alive when a regulation loss could have put them in an inescapable hole.
The penalty on Moore wasn’t the only head-scratching call in a tough night for referees Martin St. Pierre and Dan O’Halloran, but it was the one that peeved the Bruins the most following a loss that felt like a giant missed opportunity. It was also one of the most bogus penalty calls that you'll ever see deciding a late season NHL game with major playoff implications involved.
“I thought it was an egregious call, to be perfectly honest with you,” said Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. “A guy driving the net and their guy is there. It probably happens about 100 times during the course of the game, but we’ve got to get the job done on the penalty kill. It’s been good for us all year and unfortunately we needed one more.
“It was a great game until the penalty call, I thought, to be perfectly honest with you. I thought it was a really good hockey game. It’s really unfortunate that we got no points out of it.”
Earlier in the game another questionable call also hurt the Bruins. Soshnikov clobbered Patrice Bergeron with a hit from behind in the corner that slammed his head into the glass above the boards, and he was called for a minor boarding penalty. The problem was Bergeron responded by jumping up and tossing Soshnikov to the ice after the hit, and he was whistled for a roughing call that earned matching penalties.
There was no way Boston should have had anything less than a power play after that hit, and predictably Morgan Rielly and the Leafs scored their first goal during the 4-on-4 play in the first period at a key point in the game.
"I was very surprised on that [play] actually. I don’t know why that's a 4-on-4 play,” said Bergeron. “I know I retaliated, but it’s one of those [plays] where I think the numbers were pretty clear on that.”
An NHL conspiracy theorist would say that Monday night is Exhibit A that there’s greater hockey forces out there clearly pulling for the Maple Leafs to be in the playoffs this spring, and that Boston was unwitting victim this time around. It seems much more likely that the on-ice officials simply had a rough night, and that poor performance tipped the scales in favor of the Maple Leafs still very much alive for the playoffs at this point.