Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Five! Look, I Could Be an NHL Referee!...

I missed the second half of the game tonight, so I don't have much to say about that. By the time I got around to watching it on my DVR, the bleak reality of the loss had already sunk in, and I found it a little hard to care. I forced myself to watch the whole thing, because I felt some strange, irrational obligation. Or maybe it's just the inherent masochistic tendency that is a mandatory part of being a Red Wings fan.

Anyway, the Wings didn't get off to a particularly good start. If I were a rational, objective person, I might find it amusing how often I recap games this way. But I'm not. And it pisses me off. I understand that every once and a while a team might have an off-game where it takes a little longer to get rolling. It happens. But this consistently, and in the Stanley Cup Finals? Come one. I've been banging my head against walls over this for the better part of eight months now.

Then...Talbot. That name still sends chills down my spine. It just so happens that this was the one-year anniversary of Game 5, aka one of the most horrific nights of my life. And it's fairly obvious that Maxime Talbot was determined to drive another spike through my heart. I don't want to talk any more about the goal, except to once again point out that the Wings' PK absolutely sucks. Like the slow start issue, there's no plausible explanation for this. I like to think I'm a pretty smart girl, and for the life of me, I can't wrap my head around it.

And then there was Zetterberg tying it up with a beautiful shot. There's nothing more to say about this guy. He looks like he's determined to win the Cup all by himself. He didn't have a spectacular regular season, but man is he on a roll now. You just know that every single one of the Penguins is waking up covered in cold sweat and their own urine thanks to the night terrors they're having about Hank and his "will tank."

After the man-love of my brother's life gave the Wings the lead, I was feeling much better than I had all day. I knew it didn't mean much, but it's always more fun to watch when your boys are leading.

The Too Many Men on the Ice Incident really riled me up. I figured that the Wings would be fighting an extra man tonight thanks to all of Pittsburgh's whining about non-calls and Gary Bettman's obvious affection for Sidney Crosby, but I didn't think that would literally mean an extra man. Somewhere, every single Columbus Blue Jackets player and fan is crying in their beer thinking about Franzen's series-clinching powerplay goal at the end of Game 4. I don't want to hear any more complaining from Pittsburgh fans about how the referees are handing the series to the Wings.

Things like this are why the NHL is a joke to most Americans. And it's not a conspiracy. It's incompetence. Incompetence that is allowed to fester by the NHL's refusal to hold its officials accountable for their performance. And far too frequently, that incompetence, like herpes I presume, rears its ugly head and exposes the NHL for the second-rate organization that it is.

I'm not a big football fan, most likely due to growing up with the Lions, but I seem to remember an incident in the fall where a referee blew a call. And it was obvious. And it cost a team a game. And it could have impacted their playoff chances. What did he do afterward? He admitted that he made a mistake and apologized to the team and fans who had been slighted. The NFL said that it grades each official on every play of every game and uses those rankings to determine eligibility to work the playoffs or keep their job. Accordingly, this referee was downgraded. He was held responsible for his mistake, but I had to respect him for his class.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a controversial call in an NBA playoff game. Apparently one team was trying to foul the other near the end of the game, and the foul didn't get called (I've never understood the logic of a sport in which you sometimes want to be called for a foul, but I'm not really a basketball person either.). This non-call cost a team the game because the game-winning three-pointer was scored after the foul should've been called. The NBA came out and publicly admitted that there had been a mistake, and that the mistake had influenced the outcome of the game. While it didn't change the score, at least they at least acknowledged that an error had been made.

Contrast that to the NHL's reaction to things like The Goal That Wasn't. When faced with an obvious travesty of a call, what did the NHL do? It closed ranks and defended Brad Watson, stubbornly refusing to hold him accountable for his poor job-performance. And it's not just calls that have gone against the Wings. It's been happening in almost every game during the playoffs, league-wide. The worst part, other than taking the game out of the players' hands, is that it makes the league, the sport, and the rabid fans like myself look like complete jokes. It's been going on for a long time, and Gary Bettman's ignorance of the problem, refusal to implement changes, and/or complete and utter disregard for its effects on the game is almost criminal.

OK, back to the game.

Shortly after Pittsburgh's free mini-powerplay, they got a real one. It was during this powerplay that I almost screamed at the bartender because she leaned in and stuck her face right in front of mine to ask if I wanted anything to drink right as Crosby was breaking toward Ozzie with the puck. From the look on my face and the fact that I was literally sitting in a vertical fetal position in my chair, she clearly should've been able to tell that I was not in need of a beverage. Medical attention, perhaps, but not a beverage. She never came back after that. It's possible that I frightened her.

The Wings looked much better during the second period. They really carried the play for most of the time, but didn't seem to get the kind of traffic in front of the net that they usually do. I noticed this a lot more while I was watching it on my DVR because I wasn't completely losing my mind in the heat of the moment. There were several instances where loose pucks and rebounds were cleared from in front of the net because the Wings hadn't driven to the net.

Sammy had a breakaway. He hit the post. What else would you expect from a Mikael Samuelsson breakaway, though? At least he put it sort of on net...sort of.

Helm had a little bit of a rough night today. I think the Pens were tired of him running around them in circles and decided to teach him a lesson. He almost got his face sliced open with a skate after getting knocked down, so at least we know the kid has some luck around him.

Kunitz had a nice little cross-check to Franzen's head. What can I say? Once a Duck, always a Duck. Seems like Pronger.You.Goon has taught him well. On the other hand, it was nice to see the national announcers calling the Penguins out for a change. They seemed as incredulous as I was that the Too Many Men Incident wasn't called, and outright said that Kunitz was lucky to have gotten away with that.

The Ericsson penalty was pretty cheap, especially in light of the way things have been called all series. My softball team officially thinks I'm nuts thanks to the goal scored on the ensuing powerplay. I had a friend texting me score updates, and I pulled my phone out in between plays, saw that the Pens had taken the lead, and immediately began to cuss while standing in the middle of the infield. Mostly they were confused because one of our outfielders had just made a really good catch and everyone else was clapping and congratulating him.

(I realize at this point that I've spent a significant amount of time complaining about the officiating. That isn't entirely fair. The Wings couldn't find a way to score in the second period when they dominated, and then they let the Pens have their way with them for most of the third. Still, I demand excellence from myself at school and work, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the same level of performance from professional referees who have been chosen, presumably for their expertise [although in the NHL, that has to be considered a relative term], to work in the championship series. Sure, my standards are a little high, but I don't think that's unreasonable.)

Babcock sounded pretty riled up at his presser. It wasn't so much what he said as the way he said it. He wouldn't take the bait when the reporter asked him about the Too Many Men Incident, and just walked away. I also have to say that at this point, the Pens' coach hasn't managed to make me angry yet. In fact, it seems like he's actually...a decent guy. I suspect that it's because he's from Michigan. We're a little better class of folks up here in the Mitten.

That's all I have for now. This loss hurts a lot and I'm not in much of a mood to relive it. I didn't really think they were going to sweep, but it would've felt so nice. Plus, now I have to find someone to cover my shift Saturday night so I can watch Game 5.

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