Whoever said a 1-0 hockey game is a painful one to watch never saw a playoff game at its pinnacle.
Hockey is about earning your position on the ice. Before you can start a rush you have to gain puck possession; before you form an attack you have to fight it out of your zone; and before you can score a goal on a playoff-tested goalie – which we have two of in the Carolina-New Jersey series – you have to battle your way to the front of the net.
The goalie-interference feud from Game 4 carried over to the early-goings of Game 5. Tensions were heightened because of the way the series-tying goal was scored, but Jussi Jokinen’s goal was fair. Brodeur was out of his crease and wasn’t charged at for contact, but merely nudged by a player trying to gain position on the white crease-side ice; after all that’s high-value real estate.
And because of the stringent cutbacks to the apparently heinous act of physical contact, defensemen feel guilty for playing tough with the attacking player in front of the net, so the attacker feels he has more countryside to roam and take advantage of, thus cottages are built on the shores of the crease and there’s a more active presence around the goalie.
There’s a valuable lesson hockey teaches that is simple: struggle, but overcome and achieve. This is what winning the Stanley Cup is all about and is what won the game for the Devils Thursday to give them a lead in a series that has been all about great battles.
After David Clarkson got a deserved penalty for a flagrant attempt at obstruction on Cam Ward – not a battle for positioning – Chad LaRose followed it up with an iffy hit on Brodeur where LaRose’s skate actually cut the goalie. Instead of carrying over his frustration from the game before, though, Brodeur did what the best do and kept playing the game with his determined head down.
It’s why he’s among the all-time greats and his shutout in this game to give the Devils a 3-2 series lead earned him another milestone: tying Patrick Roy for the playoff shutout lead.
The referees will no doubt be ridiculed, but they should be commended for allowing such a traditional game of battle-tested teams breathe instead of bogging it down with power plays that are becoming all too common in this day in age.
In Columbus, the interference problem arose again, this time against young Steve Mason. When Tomas Holmstrom was downed in the crease, Mason was unable to gain proper positioning until Holmstrom got up. Mason had time to regain proper positioning if he was determined to do so, but seemed pre-occupied with frustration and the Wings took advantage.
Columbus’ secondary scoring finally got started in Game 4, but it was too little too late as the Wings answered them goal for goal and scored the game-winner with less than a minute left on, yes, the power play.
Whatever issue the Columbus lobby has against that penalty call is a futile point, anyway, because the series wasn’t lost on that penalty call, it was lost in the three games prior.
I’m having a tough time swallowing some of these games – especially in overtime – that end on the power play, though. The game needs to be decided by the players and not the whistles, which is why refs need to be allowed to have discretion.
Back when I reffed minor hockey in Ontario, I’ll never forget the first time I wore the stripes for a playoff game. It was tied late and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little nervous as one team called a timeout. My supervisor, who was working as the linesman, came up to me and asked me how I felt.
“Good,” I said. “But a little nervous.”
“Don’t worry,” he answered. “This is the easy part, all you have to do is put your whistle away unless they take away a wide open scoring chance.”
And that’s how playoff hockey should be decided, by the players, not the whistles. Enough with these late-game and overtime stick penalties during broken plays. This is the playoffs, folks. It’s time to man up and push through.
After all, the Stanley Cup is supposed to be the toughest trophy to win.
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