By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t want to talk about officiating, but after a Game 4 overtime loss to the Lightning to fall behind 3-1 in what is an increasingly frustrating series for his team, the head coach felt compelled to say something on Friday night.
Of course, in any high-intensity playoff hockey game that lasts more than 63 minutes, both teams are going to be frustrated with various penalty calls and non-calls that take place or don’t take place throughout the contest. But two moments in particular in Game 4 stood out to the Bruins.
The first — a hooking penalty on Noel Acciari early in the third period — ended up being somewhat inconsequential. But it was the one that nevertheless elicited a strong reaction from the coach.
“It’s game after game after game. I mean, to me, the calls — look at the Acciari penalty, it’s unbelievable,” Cassidy said. “The league gives you a directive at the start of the year that if you’re going to go after the stick, you gotta go under the stick and not on the hands, over the top of the hands. [Acciari] goes under the stick a foot from his hands, and you’ve got a 6-foot-5 guy [Victor Hedman] that I think really sold it.”
Cassidy added: “And I think the officials have to be on top of that. They’ve gotta be on top of that call. Because it’s not an infraction. He lifted his stick, as he’s been directed to do.”
The other issue the Bruins had with the officiating proved much more impactful. As rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy skated with the puck around his own net, Nikita Kucherov took his own hand off his stick to grab McAvoy. The contact forced McAvoy to the ice, and he lost the puck. The Lightning immediately capitalized when J.T. Miller gathered the loose puck and passed to Steven Stamkos for a one-timer from the slot. Stamkos scored, and the game was tied at 3-3 with just over seven minutes left in regulation.
“Seem to be going down this road a lot lately, these things about the non-calls,” Cassidy said when asked about the play. “I don’t know — it looked like [Kucherov] reached around, pulled [McAvoy] down. Charlie’s a strong guy. But it wasn’t called … and that’s that. There’s nothing you can do about it after. You gotta keep playing, and we did. They made the first play in overtime.”
Cassidy didn’t use the officiating as an excuse for the loss. He pointed out that Patrice Bergeron scored a short-handed goal after the Acciari penalty — “a bit of karma involved,” as Cassidy described it. He stated his team needs to get out to better starts, stop giving up “the first goal on the first scoring chance,” and “suck it up and play” when the calls don’t go their way. But his comments about the Acciari penalty were clearly very pointed and direct.
As for those in the losing locker room, the questions aimed at the players about officiating were plentiful. Most of the players displayed a reticence to say too much.
Brad Marchand, though, didn’t shy away from the topic.
“It was a very blatant grab on Chuckie’s shoulder,” Marchand said. “Turned into a goal, so you know, the missed calls that are costing goals and games, you know, it’s unfortunate that they can’t get it right. Hopefully they can fix that. … It would be nice if they could get it right.”
Goaltender Tuukka Rask also waded into the waters.
“What can you do? If you start bitching about it, it’s probably going to get worse. So no real reason to start complaining too much,” Rask said. “I didn’t see it, but I don’t think Charlie would just fall by himself. But you know, it’s late in the game, so unless it’s a clear call, sometimes they just don’t call those.”
“It looked clear from where I was,” veteran forward Rick Nash said of the non-call on Kucherov. “Do you guys have access to [the referee]? I don’t know, that’s a better question for him.”
“They get some calls and we get some calls. They miss some calls for them and they miss some calls for us,” rookie Ryan Donato said. “I don’t think we should blame them by any means. But stuff happens where calls you think should go your way, and it does affect the game sometimes. Obviously it’s tough to see the way it ended up.”
“I’m not going to be making comments or judgments on the refereeing. That’s just the way it is,” captain Zdeno Chara said. However, when asked if he thought the Kucherov play on McAvoy would draw a penalty, Chara said, “I’m not going to lie, yeah, I thought so.”
The man involved, McAvoy himself, said he didn’t “have anything to say about the officiating.”
“I came around the net and Zee was yelling ‘wheel,’ so I’m coming around, trying to get my feet moving, making a play and I wasn’t able to. You guys can have it up to interpretation,” McAvoy said. “I know how I feel but I’m not going to comment on it.”
McAvoy also said he got no explanation from the referees — Francois St. Laurent and Kevin Pollock.
“No. Nothing,” McAvoy said. “They don’t have anything to say about it. It is what it is.”
Clearly, there’s a level of frustration building within the Bruins locker room based on the officiating in this series. There was the cross-checking penalty on David Pastrnak in Game 1 which instantly negated a goal, there was a slashing penalty called on Torey Krug in Game 2 for a stick tap to a shin pad, there was a double-minor for high-sticking called on Pastrnak when it was actually a case of Hedman hitting himself in the face with his own stick, there was a missed call for an Anton Stralman slash of Marchand’s hand when Marchand was attempting to tie Game 3 on a breakaway, and then there was the Acciari hold and the non-call on Kucherov in Game 4.
Officiating is, though, just one aspect of this series — a series over which the Lightning now own total control with a 3-1 lead as they head back to their home ice for Game 5 on Sunday. How the Bruins respond to this adversity will ultimately determine whether their season will live on for at least two more days or whether it will come to a bitter end on the west coast of Florida.