Posted Jun 03, 2009 10:30AM By BRUCE CISKIE ()
When the calendar flips to June, and the Stanley Cup Finals start, it seems to be a tradition for NHL officials' whistles to suddenly malfunction.
So far in this year's series, we've seen plenty of evidence that the officials are determined to "let the players play." This has beenendorsed by members of both teams, but may have helped lead to a rather embarrassing display during Game 3 Tuesday night.
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During the latter stages of the first period, the Penguins -- trailing 2-1 at the time -- were able to sustain some puck possession in the Detroit zone. As the Penguins cycled the puck, Versus analyst Ed Olczyk noticed that they had six players on the ice.
He noted that they had for some time prior to his mentioning it, and it was another ten seconds or so before defenseman Mark Eaton slithered to the Pittsburgh bench.
Olczyk estimated that the Penguins had six players on the ice for "at least 20-25 seconds." After the game, forward Maxime Talbot joked that "with six guys we cycled the puck a little bit."
All kidding aside, and all talk of letting the players play aside, it's hard to laugh about such officiating ineptitude. Referees Paul Devorski and Dennis LaRue were joined by linesmen Derek Arnell and Pierre Racicot for Tuesday's game. All four are working Finals games based on merit. This isn't a random draw of officials to work games on the league's biggest stage, no matter how it might seem to be.
Instead, these are said to be the league's best. In this case, the best the NHLhas to offer put on a shocking display of obliviousness. The four men in striped shirts didn't notice the six players on the ice. Not at all. Since Pittsburgh had possession of the puck, a whistle would have been instantaneous.
The Red Wings didn't cry about it after the game, to their credit. They may have felt a bit responsible for not noticing themselves until Eaton was on his way to the bench. It's not their job, however, to notice rules infractions on the ice.
Of course, they may have remembered their own extra-player gaffe. It happened late in a regular-season game against Nashville, and just like Tuesday night, four officials somehow missed the obvious.
There's no turning back for the league. They can't retroactively give Detroit a man advantage. They can't apologize and just make it go away. Instead, it's up to the selected officials to avoid such embarrassment in the remainder of the series, whether that ends up being two, three, or four games.