By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — This time of year, one single penalty call can make all the difference between glory and misery. It appears as though both sides of this Stanley Cup Final are willing to do whatever is necessary to try to get those calls to go in their favor.
Prior to Game 4, Blues head coach Craig Berube complained about too many calls going against St. Louis. Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy had no such complaints.
But after the Bruins lost Game 4 to allow the Blues to tie the series at 2-2, veteran forward David Backes shared his own frustrations with the way the game was called.
“[Berube made] a comment to the refs about them being this angelic team about not taking penalties all playoffs, and all of a sudden the whistles are put away,” Backes told reporters in the locker room. “But that’s, you know what, we’ll keep playing through the stuff we have to. They’re doing it, and we have to find our goals however we need to find them.”
Backes’ comments, which aired on “Boston Sports Tonight,” continued, noting that the five total power plays (three for St. Louis, two for Boston) marked a noticeable dip from previous games. In Game 3, there were nine power plays (five for St. Louis, four for Boston), while the Bruins had 10 power plays and the Blues had five in the first two games of the series.
“I felt like there was less called, no question. That’s what the statistics show, that there were less power plays on either side,” Backes said. “That’s kind of more what you’re expecting, maybe, coming into the finals, but that’s not the way the whole playoffs were for us, so I don’t know why that would change now. We’ll see. We just need to keep playing our game for 60 minutes and let the chips fall where they may.”
The series thus far has involved referees Steve Kozari and Kelly Sutherland (Games 1 and 3) and referees Chris Rooney and Gord Dwyer (Games 2 and 4).
Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo, who scored a short-handed goal in the loss, said the game was called a little bit differently, but that he didn’t mind.
“Yeah, I mean, the refs are going to call the game the way they want to. I like when they give us the freedom to play a little bit more,” Carlo said. “They were pushing hard on us on the forecheck there, and some of the hits were a little bit later — you had to brace yourself. Ultimately, as long as we can do that same thing to them, it shouldn’t be an issue. And, yeah, the refs are going to call it the way they do.”
Backes, who played 10 seasons for the Blues and served as captain for five of them, has been heavily involved in some major physicality this series. That continued in Game 4, when he delivered a crushing open-ice hit on Ivan Barbashev.
Backes was also ripped to the ice by Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo after a whistle:
That didn’t land on Backes’ list of complaints after Game 4.
“Two guys trying to win a game for their teams,” Backes explained. “Don’t expect any different. I’ll keep going there and keep looking for the scrum, maybe a loose puck, and maybe make a difference.”
As for the complaints, it’s not difficult to discern what’s happening. The comments aren’t being used as an excuse, and they’re not being made with 100 percent sincerity. They’re being stated — both by Berube and now by Backes — as a means to an end, an effort to influence officiating going forward.
Whether or not that works will be hard to measure. The Blues did get three power plays to Boston’s two power plays in Game 4, which wasn’t a major change from Game 3, when the Bruins got four power plays and the Blues got five. The difference in Game 4 was that the Bruins failed to score with the man advantage, a significant reason why they lost the game.
That execution — or lack thereof — is ultimately what will decide this series, not necessarily the officiating itself. But in the meantime, with so much on the line, neither side is afraid to do a little bit of politicking … just in case.