Is officiating a cause for concern for Tampa Bay in Game 6? Guy Boucher is aware it might

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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.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski