Like it or not, the officiating has become a major topic of conversation, and consternation, in the Bruins second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Major non-calls in the moments of truth in both Game 2 and Game 4 have been extremely problematic for the Bruins and really go beyond the simple “things will even out eventually” mistakes that commonly occur on both sides during a heated playoff series.
It’s something that’s clearly aroused the ire of the Bruins players, the Bruins head coach and a visibly steamed Bruins President that was waving his arms and yelling in the Bruins management booth as things slipped away in the third period of Friday night’s Game 4 at TD Garden.
“We tell them not to [dwell on the calls], but we’re human beings. It’s game after game after game,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy after Game 4 when asked how hard it is for his players to move past the officiating clearly hurting them in the four games played thus far against the Lightning. “We’re all kind of tired of talking about it. I think I heard someone say, suck it up and play, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to suck it up and play. I thought we did a good job with that. There was no unsportsmanlike [conducts], no warnings [from the officials] and we just tried to keep playing. That’s that.”
With all of this in mind, here is the mounting pile of evidence that the NHL referees owe an entire barrel full of makeup calls to the Boston Bruins after the way they’ve put the screws to them thus far in their playoff run, and in particular their current series against the Lightning:
1) A non-call in the third period of Game 2 on Anton Stralman slashing the hand of Brad Marchand on a breakaway. This is where things really went broken arrow between those covering the series, and an NHL officiating group that simply hasn’t done the right thing on multiple occasions in the Bruins/Lightning series.
With the Bruins down by a single goal in the third period of Game 2 in Tampa Bay, Marchand was in all alone for a breakaway on Andrei Vasilevskiy after he’s just given up a super-soft goal to Torey Krug. Stralman never caught up to No. 63 but instead slashed at his hand causing Marchand to lose control of the puck before he could even get a shot off on the Tampa net. The lack of a penalty call was egregious enough to catch the eye and ire of NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick, who lambasted the officials (Kelly Sutherland, Eric Furlatt) on air after the game was finished.
Making the missed call worse was a weak slashing call on Torey Krug earlier in the game that was barely a tap on the leg pads, and that led to a power-play goal for Tampa Bay. It was inexcusable for a clear breakaway with one of the NHL’s biggest star players to get wiped off the boards like it was that night, and the officials in the series have yet to make any kind of make-up to the Bruins as a result of it.
2) Another non-call in Game 4 with the Bruins holding a 3-2 lead late in the third period with about seven minutes to go in the game. Charlie McAvoy was wheeling the puck from behind the Boston net when Nikita Kucherov jumped the Bruins rookie D-man, wrapped both his arms around the youngster and forced a turnover at a very dangerous part of the ice in the D-zone. It looked like a textbook, easy-to-make-the-call holding penalty on Kucherov both in real time and in slow motion replay behind the net, but instead, the on-ice officials once again opted not to call anything on a clear infraction that directly led to a Steve Stamkos Stammer Hammer tying up the game from the high slot.
There should always be some element of “letting the players figure it out” in these tight, one-goal games where players are going all out for the win, but any kind of potential infraction that leads to a scoring chance late in a close game absolutely needs to be called correctly by the refs on the ice. At this point, nobody could blame the Bruins if they feel like they’re facing two different teams in this series, the extremely skilled and deep group out of Tampa Bay and the officials that have continually turned the screws on the Black and Gold in the crunch time of the second round.
3) Who could forget the first round where part of what pushed the Bruins to seven games was Toronto’s ability to bounce back and take away some of the momentum Boston was riding high on during Game 3 at the Air Canada Centre. The first goal Toronto scored in the series was a completely bogus power-play strike created by a bogus delay of game penalty on Riley Nash in the defensive zone. Multiple video replays showed Nash’s clearing attempt hit the glass above the boards before riding up and out into the stands at the ACC, and that meant that it should never have been a penalty on the Bruins. Instead, the refs huddled together and ended up concurring on the exact wrong call of delay of game, and the Maple Leafs subsequently scored a James van Riemsdyk power-play goal just seven seconds into the PP possession to give Toronto an early lead they wouldn’t blow.
The early goal for Toronto helped them wrest control of the game and give the Leafs a badly needed win after getting blown out in the first two games of the series on the road in Boston. The break and the Leafs victory really allowed Toronto to get their bearings as well, and then push the Bruins to seven full games before finally succumbing to the Black and Gold at the moment of truth. The amazing part of this whole escapade is that this is only the second or third worst thing that the officials have done to the Bruins in two rounds as they continue to fight for their lives while down 3-1 in the series against the Lightning.
4) Though not as clearly egregious as some of the other calls or non-calls that have happened in the second round series, the face-off challenges that Patrice Bergeron has faced in this postseason have certainly bugged him in spurts. Bergeron was booted from the face-off circle nearly two dozen times in the first round against Toronto in a move that was clearly lobbied for by Maple Leafs management and Mike Babcock, and to make matters worse it had Bergeron thinking way too much about draws to the point where he’s struggled a little bit after having been masterful through most of his career. The hypocrisy of the NHL enforcing face-off rules more stringently in the playoffs than they did during the regular season has led to the NHL’s best face-off man getting kicked out of the circle far too much.
In the second round, things were equally suspect from an officiating point-of-view as Bergeron went from a strong Game 1 (where he didn’t get tossed out of the penalty box once) to a lesser Game 2 where the B’s four-time Selke Trophy winner was tossed out of the draw on six different occasions from offensive zone face-offs. It certainly felt like Tampa Bay also complained to the NHL’s Supervisor of Officials about Bergeron “cheating” in the face-off circle by never coming to a complete stop on the ice while readying for the drop of the puck. In all, Bergeron has been bounced out of the face-off circle approximately 23 times in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and now it felt like the league was targeting one of the Black and Gold’s most exciting and well-rounded two-way players in Bergeron.
The good news, if there is any, seems to be that Bergeron is no longer being forced out of the face-off circle by the linesmen as much in recent games like he was earlier on in the playoffs. Perhaps the message finally got through to a league that’s been awfully difficult on the Black and Gold over the last month of hockey.
5) The main grievances are out of the way for the Black and Gold as we get to the fifth spot on the list, but Game 2 in Tampa was so badly officiated that one could still absolutely go back and see other bad calls that might have made the difference. With the Bruins down in the third period and furiously attempting to come back against the Lightning, David Pastrnak was whistled for a four-minute high-sticking double minor on Victor Hedman where it was clear the Tampa defenseman had been bloodied. The problem with that call? Video replays clearly showed that Pastrnak lifted up Hedman’s stick as they battled for the puck, and it was Hedman’s own stick that tagged him in the head prior to the penalty call.
The referees assumed it was Pastrnak that caught Hedman with an errant high-sticking play and shipped him off to the penalty box for four minutes with the B’s shorthanded. So sticking a four-minute, gifted Tampa Bay power play into the middle of a third-period comeback attempt for the Bruins was far less than ideal, and was part of the B’s last rites for Game 2 along with the bad non-slashing call on Marchand’s subsequent breakaway attempt. This doesn’t even mention David Pastrnak getting crushed behind the Boston net with a cross-checking penalty that clearly was missed by the on-ice officials, but that’s part of the problem that’s going on with the Bruins. It’s getting near impossible to compile a brief list of all the different ways the Bruins have been getting boned by the on-ice officials in important second-round playoff games.