Refereeing is always a hot-button issue at this time of year. Tuesday's game seven between Washington and Philadelphia was a cauldron of controversy.
The Flyers' second goal might have been waved off due to goaltender interference, but wasn't. Then they clinched the game and series in overtime, while Tom Poti of the Capitals sat in the penalty box.
This sent Adam Proteau of the Hockey News into a tizzy. He didn't care for either call. The refereeing, he writes, was abhorrent, inexplicable, and indefensible. He won't blame the refs for "missing a call or two," but...
I do, however, blame the league if it (a) cannot comprehend how awful it appears when their officials put away the whistles late in important games, and (b) take the appropriate steps – as rapidly and doggedly as they did in creating the Sean Avery Rule – to ensure this type of debacle never happens again.Which is a perfectly reasonable stance to take, if you just started watching hockey about two weeks ago.
Consider this: Barry Melrose at ESPN said letting Philadelphia's second goal stand was "a good non-call." E.J. Hradek at ESPN.com said it could have gone either way, and judged the overtime penalty "deserved." Even Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said the call against Poti was legit: "He tripped him."
Of course, plenty of other commentators agree with Proteau that the refs botched the game. The point is: opinion is all over the place. It always is in these situations.
There is no consensus in the hockey community on how the referees should call the game, especially in high-pressure situations. There never will be a consensus.
Proteau's entitled to his opinion. But to pretend that his reading of the rules is the only correct one, and that future controversies could be avoided by "appropriate steps" is nonsense.
Refereeing is a perpetual work in progress. The relationship between the rulebook and the game demands interpretation, and always will.
Expanding the scope of video review wouldn't help. It would just lead to more delays, more bickering over the rules and more angry screeds from sportswriters who should know better.
Sports justice will never be black-and-white, cut-and-dried, or above reproach. As long as referees lace up skates, the rest of us will question when and why they blow - or don't blow - the whistle.
Bruce Boudreau knows this, which is why he didn't call out the refs in his dignified postgame comments. Like him, we've just got to roll with it.
Photo: Referee Don Koharski (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)