Officiating is a big part of any game in the NHL playoffs. Last night we saw a missed deflection turn into an icing call that allowed the Vancouver Canucks to tie the game with under 20 seconds to play and force overtime where they’d go on to win the game and series over San Jose. Tampa Bay has seen Steve Downie get the rough treatment from referee Tim Peel in Game 4 that saw him receive a ten minute misconduct as well as a diving penalty late in the game when he was boarded by Nathan Horton.
With Game 6 upon us and the Lightning needing a win to stay alive, there’s a curious referee assignment in tonight’s game. Officials Kelly Sutherland and Eric Furlatt have drawn tonight’s assignment with Dan O’Rourke the backup in case of injury. What you may not know is that Furlatt has a bit of a history with the Lightning this season in that he’s called 24 penalties against Tampa Bay and just nine against their opponents.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher is more than aware of who will be out on the ice tonight as he was asked about it during today’s press conference.
Q. Guy, do you get concerned at all sometimes when you see the officials who are on the sheet? You get one particular tonight who’s been very lopsided the past few times.
COACH BOUCHER: 24-9 against, right? Yes, I’m aware of it. Very aware of it. Very, very aware of it. It has been a part of our discussions quite a few times in the last game, the last games we did have that particular ref. And it is lopsided.
But the only thing we can control is what we do on the ice and hope that things will be fair like it is with everybody else.
Q. Do you block that out of your mind, though? Do you have to ignore it, who it is, and just go about your business?
COACH BOUCHER: You want to ignore it, but you’re right, after repetition, it is a concern. But we’re planning on being strong mentally and forcing whoever is a ref to see that we’re very disciplined.
Having a coach come right out and say that he’s very aware of the past issues he’s had with an official is an incredible admission. It’ll be curious to see if the Lightning keep doing things their way or if they play a brand of hockey to get around what they think the official may or may not call. We’ve heard about teams in Major League Baseball scouting umpires to try and get an idea of how to pitch to their tendencies, but will we see that tonight in Tampa Bay? It’d be an out-of-the-box kind of thing to do, but given Boucher’s abilities to adjust on the fly it wouldn’t exactly be a shock if it happened.
While this provides a nice point of interest to keep an eye out in tonight’s game, the Lightning have special teams worries of their own to be more concerned about. While the Bruins power play continues to be poor, the Lightning haven’t been much better than them in this series. Tampa Bay is 2-17 on the power play in this series and those goals each came in the first two games of this series. Since then they’ve gone 0-9 on the power play as the Bruins have found ways to stifle them on the man advantage. What was a great bonus for them in previous rounds of the playoffs has turned into a problem.
If the officiating becomes the story tonight, don’t expect the fans to keep quiet about it and now that this airing of grievances has come out from Boucher, it’s going to grab headlines if it boils down that way. A little gamesmanship never hurt anyone after all.