The NHL playoffs are the most wonderful time of the year for many people. Play is fast and competition is fierce. Even non-hockey fans get sucked in to how exciting it is.
Both novices and die-hard fans have noticed a terrible trend, though: the bad officiating throughout the league.
In a majority of the games there have been several questionable calls. The most obvious example was the game five fiasco in the Wild/Avalanche series. During the final seconds there was a blown hold and offsides call within seconds of each other. Some may say that you just “let them play” in this situation, but something so obvious that ended up having an effect on the final outcome of the game is never acceptable.
All around the league the officials seemed to be the only ones struggling with keeping up with the accelerated pace of the playoffs. I witnessed multiple botched calls on penalties, icings, and offsides. Several times linesmen blew plays dead for icing well before the puck crossed the end goal line. Offsides has been called when it hasn't happened and not called when it actually has.
The most glaring missed call happened late in game one of the second round series between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. A Kings defenseman was interfering with an Anaheim forward who then ended up falling and inadvertently tripping him. And tripping was called on the Ducks! This is a simple call: it’s either interference on the Kings or no penalty at all.
Frankly, this has happened far too often in the 2014 playoffs and is tarnishing the game I love so much. In the offseason the NHL has to do something to improve the quality of the officiating, whether it’s with more extensive training, a system of fines for blown calls, or adding a fifth official (perhaps one that’s off the ice that can see the full rink clearly). If nothing happens this epidemic will continue to leave a black eye on the sport.
After trailing four separate times in game seven against the Avalanche the Wild found an unlikely hero in Nino Niederreiter. His goal at 5:20 of overtime ended the classic in dramatic fashion.
In two seasons with the New York Islanders Niederreiter played 64 games and tallied a measly three points. After spending all of last season in their minor league system he was traded to the Wild and has suddenly begun to flourish. In 81 games this season he collected 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists). This is especially impressive considering that he mostly played on the third and fourth lines. Of his four points in the playoffs (two goals, two assists) none was more important than his game seven winner.
After the Wild’s thrilling victory over the Avalanche they caught a flight to Chicago to get ready to face the Blackhawks. Their few extra days off (they finished off the St. Louis Blues in 5 games) found them a bit rusty in game one. The Wild took charge in the second period but Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford remarkably stopped every shot he saw. Our boys rallied from a two goal deficit in the third before the electric Patrick Kane scored on a beautiful solo shot that kept the Blackhawks in the lead for good.
In game two the Wild came out looking completely outmatched, managing only two shots in the first period. A bad call that lead to a Blackhawks goal moments after the penalty expired didn’t help either. Cody McCormick, who was set up nicely by Clayton Stoner, scored the Wild’s only goal in a disappointing 4-1 loss.
The Wild were aggressive but controlled in their series against the Avalanche. In order to beat the Blackhawks they will need to get back to that physicality. Most importantly, though, they’ll need to finish when they have chances, something they’ve been struggling to do so far. Hopefully being at the Xcel Energy Center will re-invigorate them and give them the confidence they need to bring the series back to Chicago.
Peter Ripka is the co-host of the Rambling On podcast. He's a blogger and analyst who specializes in sports, particularly hockey and baseball. Reach him via email or find him on Facebook and Twitter.