By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For the first time in eight years, there will be a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final. The NHL has to be ecstatic about that development.
But the league also has a bit of a quagmire when it comes to assigning the men in stripes to officiate that game.
Through six games of the series, the league has employed two sets of referees, alternating them every game. The odd-numbered games have been reffed by Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari, while the even-numbered games have been reffed by Chris Rooney and Gord Dwyer.
By that measure, one might assume that Game 7 would fall under the responsibility of Sutherland and Kozari. Alas, it’s not that simple.
Game 5 was marred by some significant missed calls. Kozari was standing mere feet away when Ivan Barbashev delivered a hit to the head of Marcus Johansson.
Kozari didn’t deem that hit worthy of a penalty; the league deemed it worthy of a suspension during the Stanley Cup Final.
(Kozari was also reduced to a spectator in Game 1 when Torey Krug and David Perron each committed at least three penalties apiece, in the sequence leading up to the memorable hit by Krug on Robert Thomas. Kozari and Suthlerland also combined to assess two penalties to the Bruins in a conference final game on plays where seemingly no infraction took place.)
And, in the sequence that led directly to St. Louis’ game-winning goal, Sutherland was the nearest referee when Tyler Bozak swept his leg behind the knee of Noel Acciari, sending the Boston winger to the ice in a clear and obvious case of tripping.
Yet Sutherland — and Kozari, out in the neutral zone — called nothing, and the Blues scored just seconds later to go up 2-0. They won the game, 2-1.
(Brad Marchand performed a near-identical leg sweep in Game 6, and he was promptly — and correctly — sent to the penalty box for tripping.)
Had the missed calls been the only storyline from that game, it would be one thing. But Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy stepped to the podium after the game and absolutely let it rip.
“It was blatant,” Cassidy said of the trip. “The National Hockey League’s getting a black eye with their officiating this playoffs. And here’s another one that’s going to be talked about.”
Cassidy later added: “What was being said was, ‘You missed an effing call,’ was what was being said on the bench, for obvious reasons. … I think, listen, we thought we got screwed, and you gotta keep playing.”
For good measure, Cassidy said the missed penalty call was “egregious.”
Krug, Tuukka Rask and Acciari himself all commented publicly on the play, noting that it was an obvious call. Krug also answered definitively when asked if he felt the officiating in the series changed after Craig Berube complained about calls after Game 3.
Acciari summed up his feelings succinctly: “Just kind of embarrassing.”
All of which leads us to Game 7. Not only did the two referees clearly err on a grand stage in Game 5, but they also faced heavy scrutiny from the Bruins. Can those same two referees — both longtime veterans — be expected and counted on to officiate the game competently and without being influenced by the intense criticism lobbed at them by one of the teams involved in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final?
If the NHL were so inclined, it could employ the Rooney/Dwyer duo for Game 7, to avoid a potentially disastrous situation from developing in Boston. The options outside of that are fairly slim … because of other major officiating gaffes made this postseason.
Referees Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke had their postseason end early after they missed a hand pass that led directly to a San Jose game-winning goal in overtime of Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
In the first round of the playoffs, referees Eric Furlatt and Dan O’Halloran decided to assess a major penalty and a game midconduct to Vegas’ Cody Eakin at a time when the Golden Knights led 3-0 in the third period. The Sharks then scored four power-play goals on that five-minute major, en route to a 5-4 victory that ended the Knights’ season. The NHL apologized to the Vegas franchise for the mistake, and the league also ended the postseason work for Furlatt and O’Halloran.
By that standard, it’s likely that the NHL will avoid sending Sutherland and Kozari back to Boston for Game 7, given all of the controversy that marred Game 5. Then again, absent many alternative options, that much won’t be known until (or if) the league decides to make an official announcement.
UPDATE: While far from an official announcement, it seems as though ESPN’s John Buccigross is reporting that the Game 6 crew of Rooney and Dwyer will don the stripes for Game 7.