The Caps played their best game of the series, but in the end it didn’t matter. They overcame, but could not overcome everything.
The Caps overcame a Philadelphia goal in the first minute of the game. The Caps overcame a stretch of 5:16 in consecutive shorthanded time in the first period, a span that included 44 seconds during which they were two men short.
The Caps weathered an uncalled, blood-drawing high-stick from Braydon Coburn on Matt Bradley (ah, but we were told that one of the brilliant and impartial Philly TV guys termed it a “flop” on Bradley’s part), an event that was followed almost immediately by Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina being sent to the box for cross-checking on a play that most impartial observers we polled saw as a clean hit (save for the one(s) that counted, natch).
The Caps weathered a pair of uncalled high-sticks to the face of Alexander Semin, one from the blade of Joffrey Lupul and the other from Jim Dowd. Dowd’s certainly looked intentional and looked like intent to injure, as well.
The Caps overcame one call for too many men on the ice, but were unable to weather a second one; Danny Briere’s power play goal tied the game at 3-3 in the third.
The Caps overcame a late third period goaltender interference penalty on Viktor Kozlov, who was taken down (A: hooked, B: tripped, C: checked, D: both A&B) en route to the net on a semi-breakaway; the contact caused him to have resultant contact with Flyers goaltender Martin Biron.
The Caps were unable to overcome Mike Knuble’s overtime game-winner. Watch the replay and you’ll see Knuble take a stick swing at Caps goaltender Cristobal Huet just seconds before he potted the game-winner.
Kozlov: goaltender interference. Knuble: not so much.
Ultimately, the Caps failed to cash in on some scoring chances. They made some coverage mistakes, failed to clear their zone more than a few times and gave up some goals as a result. They lost the hockey game and now trail 3-1 in the series.
That’s life, and that’s hockey. Mistakes happen. Players make them. Coaches make them. Guys on TV make them. Guys who pick the three stars make them. After the game, the Caps and their coach gamely stood in front of cameras and microphones and talked about their mistakes and accepted responsibility for them.
Officials make mistakes, too. The difference is, the next time you see them standing in front of a camera or a microphone to explain or accept responsibility for any of them, well … that will be the first time.
I talked to a handful of media types from both sides of the press box and some others who are impartial during the intermissions of Thursday night’s game in Philly. Not a single one of them believed Jurcina or Kozlov should have been penalized. Not a single one of them believed that Coburn, Lupul, and Dowd should not have been penalized. That’s five bad calls, five missed calls (one of which should have been a double minor, and another which could have been a major) in a tight game and a tight series, all going against the same team.
Them’s the breaks.
I wonder what it’s like to be an NHL referee. What’s it like to see a guy standing on the bench bleeding from a call that you missed, a call that might have changed the course of a game? Does an official ever watch a replay of one of his crosschecking calls or goalie interference calls and say to himself, “Whoops, missed that one, it was clean.” Does he ever see an elbowing infraction or an interference call he missed and say, “Whoops, should have called that one.”
We’ll never know. The NHL officials are above reproach. The league mandates that coaches and players be made available to the media, that reporters are given access to locker rooms. Coaches explain their thinking with regards to personnel and strategy, and players talk about what they saw and/or thought on this play and that play.
It’s good. It helps fans understand how and why things happen. It makes them better fans and gives them a better appreciation for the game. But we’re not allowed to understand why one bump on a goaltender is a penalty, and another is not. We’re not privy to what a referee was looking at while a player’s face was being sliced open with a stick blade.
Or what he was looking at the next time it happened.
Or the time after that.
The Philly choir boys were a bit incorrigible at the start of the game, but they really played nice for the final 73:54 of the game. (I wonder how many times the Flyers went 73:54 with just one minor penalty called against them during the regular season.) The Flyers were called for one delay of game penalty during that span, when Coburn was deemed to have knocked the net from its moorings deliberately.
Probably it was an accident. Too bad the official can’t take that one back.
Some who happen upon this post will say it’s sour grapes. I respect your right to believe that. Regular readers of this space and regular listeners to the frequent (more than 100 a year) podcasts I host on washingtoncaps.com know that I normally go out of my way not to discuss, blame, criticize or otherwise include officiating (especially specific calls) in the analysis of games and their outcomes. (Though I have occasionally noted lately that it’s hard to say what is and isn’t a penalty any more, watching several games around the league every night. This is a sentiment that is echoed by many of those within the game with whom I have regular contact and discussions, including some current and former players.)
Tonight, I was not able to overcome the urge to keep quiet. Sorry.
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