Matt Cooke talks with referee Brad Watson during a timeout. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
If you’re a fan of any one particular playoff team – especially one currently watching instead of playing – you’re likely not of the mindset to give credit to the officials this time of year. To err is human, but each team, rightly or wrongly, can point to an instance or 12 where they believe they were screwed over by the men in black and white.
From an overarching standpoint, however, referees and those at the NHL who provide their guidelines warrant a pat on the back and an ‘Atta-boy’ for not allowing the game to regress into the painful Dead Puck Era-style we all suffered through prior to the lockout.
This isn’t to say Stephen Walkom and his disciples have done anything particular in these playoffs to keep the obstruction crackdown in place. Rather, because the rulebook has been called as it was intended for the past three seasons, players endure a Pavlovian response whenever their sticks creep up on an opponent’s waist.
Instinct is to hook or hold, but training – thanks to penalties and plenty of them, especially in the early post-lockout period – has players refraining from the act.
A balance has been struck where, again, for the most part, the players are deciding the game, not the officials.
Even in overtime, where historically the brand of hockey could be best described as rugby on ice, players skate unimpeded and the game’s flow remains rapid despite the inevitable officiating leniency that creeps in.
The majority of the credit for hockey’s uprising has to be lumped on the shoulders of the game’s young stars, but, while the league gets rightfully hammered for the Desert Debacle, a small tidbit of tribute should be directed at the NHL and its officials for the job they’ve done at dragging the on-ice product from its darkest age.
Why do we ever doubt Wings GM extraordinaire Ken Holland? When all of us media types were clamoring for Detroit to grab a goalie at the trade deadline, Holland stood his ground and kept his faith in Chris Osgood, even though the 36-year-old was sporting a goals-against average above 3.00 and a save percentage on the ugly side of .900.
Now, as I suspect Holland suspected, Osgood has tightened his game and has the second-best GAA (2.04) and fifth-best SP (.925) in the playoffs. More important than the numbers, though, is the fact his Detroit teammates appear to have complete faith in their veteran keeper.
It’s that ability to raise his game and instill confidence when it matters most that should already have Osgood in the Hall of Fame debate and seal his place should he backstop the Red Wings to the Cup for the third time in his career.
HEAD FOR THE HILLS
Made a road trip from Toronto to Pittsburgh this past weekend – strangely, not for anything to do with the Penguins. If you’re lucky enough to get playoff tickets for an upcoming game, be sure to stay an extra day and check out the National Aviary, the Carnegie museums of art and natural history and a Pirates game at PNC Park. Split up your adventure with a Primanti Bros. sandwich and you’re all set.
HAWKS-WINGS BY THE NUMBERS
The Wings may have 11 Cups to Chicago’s three, but the Blackhawks are 8-6 all-time against Detroit in the playoffs…What doesn’t bode well for Chicago, though, is the fact the Wings are 26-6 (.812) when leading a series 2-0. Chicago is 4-25 (.138) when trailing by that margin…But don’t completely count out the Hawks: they’re historically 24-10 (.706) at home against the Wings.
Host Edward Fraser sits down with senior writers Ken Campbell and Adam Proteau to each of the remaining four team's unsung playoff hero.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper | The THN.com Shootout will appear Monday to Friday throughout the playoffs.
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Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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