I don't usually jump on the "refs did it" bandwagon. Every fan base does that when they don't like the way a game turns out, and I've always thought it a little demeaning to do the same. Last night, though, it happened. Friends and I were watching Game Four...the most pivotal game in most playoff series...between the Canadiens and Senators. When Mika Zibanejad’s third-period goal crossed the line, the replay showed two things. First, that rookie Jarred Tinordi had made a rookie defenceman's error and lost his man on the open side of the net while poking at the puck instead. Second, that Zibanejad kicked the puck into the net. Everyone watching with me said, "That was kicked in." I agreed, but I also said, "The league is never calling that back." Sure enough, the goal stood and that decision led to the spiral of disaster that became the heartbreaking, backbreaking loss.
Lots of people are saying today the Habs lay back and allowed the loss to happen to them. I disagree.
Every team, especially a beat-up team facing an air-tight goalie, is naturally going to want to cling to a two-goal lead. It's instinctive, and it will happen more often than not. That said, even though the Senators out shot the Habs in the third, they didn't have many real threatening chances. Canadiens were doing a decent job at moving the puck out of their zone and even kept it in the Ottawa zone for stretches, although they didn't get a lot of chances.
When the Zibanejad goal was kicked in...and it was...it set a slightly fragile team on edge. Still, they likely would have held off the Senators for the win without the repeated questionable icing calls and subsequent faceoffs that meant Plekanec, struggling in the circle, couldn't get off. I always understood icing would be called if a team shot the puck the length of the ice, out of reach of the opposing defence. Twice the Canadiens lobbed the puck out, and twice Senators defencemen glided gently along after it. Twice they could have easily retrieved the puck with a modicum of effort, and twice the linesmen called icing. Given enough chances to re-set the play with the man advantage, the Senators would have been pretty brutal if they didn't get a good chance.
The funny thing is, the reluctance of "classy" fans to point at the officiating when looking for the cause of a heartbreaking loss is so pervasive, we're looking to blame anything else. So, the team didn't take enough shots in the third. They had the wrong guy out for faceoffs. They couldn't clear the front of the net. They benched Galchenyuk (who, even his biggest defender has to admit is pretty lost in his own end, a LOT) for the third when they could have used a goal. All of those reasons for the loss are acceptable, but it isn't PC to say the officials played a part.
Well, they did. If that first Sens goal had been called back as it should have been, the rest of the whole disaster wouldn't have happened. If the Canadiens had somehow found another way to lose all on their own, that would be a different story. Last night, though, they had a lot of help from an increasingly weak group of NHL officials.
The loss would have been worse, marginally, if it had been the deciding game of the series. As it stands, without Carey Price, Brian Gionta, Ryan White and Lars Eller and with Max Pacioretty very likely nursing some kind of debilitating injury, the bell is tolling for the Habs today. They may take Game Five at the Bell Centre tomorrow, or they may be completely out of gas. Either way, it's not likely they'll pull off three wins in a row at this point. The win they should have had last night would have given them some life, even with the injuries they face. Now, the Habs playoffs are on life support.
It's not cool to blame the officiating for your team's losing a big game these days. I don't care. The Habs got jobbed.