Boston Bruins

By Ty Anderson,

To properly put this second-round series between the Bruins and Lightning into perspective, we’ve hit the point where there’s been so many game-changing non-calls and assorted nonsense that I’ve almost completely forgotten about Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask trying to play his position without a blade on his skate in Game 1.

Something that went without a whistle, and with the officiating crew telling Rask after the game that they would have blown the whistle had they seen it before the Bolts scored their goal. This whole thing happened in Boston’s lone victory of this series to date, and again, it’s something I’ve almost completely forgotten about even happening.

That takes… something else.

But it also speaks to something we’ve been forced to waste far too much time on this postseason: the officials.

There’s no proper way to whine about the officials, and believe me, I know that. I’m pretty sure it’s the first thing Mike will say to me if he finds this story sometime between now and Pearl Jam kicking off the two o’clock hour this Monday.

But holy smokes, it’s somehow gotten worse — and less with consistency (hard to imagine) — game by game.

It truly started in Game 2 when the Bruins were not awarded a penalty shot or power play of any sort when Anton Stralman slashed Brad Marchand in the hands on a breakaway. This was on the heels of a classic hard-ass game from Kelly Sutherland and Co., with everything being a penalty for the first 55 minutes except for, you know, the thing they’ve called all season. In a season allegedly featuring a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on slashing, missing this borders on pure insanity. But we’ve been over this. Naturally, Marchand was whistled for a slash against Stralman in Game 3. (That penalty was perfectly legit, but didn’t help settle anybody’s temper with the inconsistent-at-best officials.)

Game 4 was not much better.

In the third period of a tied game, Noel Acciari gets whistled for what has to be one of the weakest hooks you’ll see.

It was infuriating. Instead of letting the best game of this series be decided by the players on the ice, viewers were once again put in a situation where a ticky-tacky call could have had a cheapening effect on the end result.

“You look at the [Noel] Acciari penalty, it’s unbelievable that the league gives you directive at the start of the year that if you’re going to go at the stick, you’ve got to go under the stick and not on the hands, over top the hands or,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Game 4. “[Acciari] goes under the stick a foot from his hands, and you’ve got a six-foot-five guy that, I think, really sold it, and I think the officials have to be on top of that. They’ve got to be on top of that call because it’s not an infraction. He lifted his stick as he’s been directed to do.”

Karma had its say and the Bruins scored a shorthanded goal on the Acciari penalty, giving Boston a third-period lead.

But moments later, Nikita Kucherov hauled Charlie McAvoy down behind the Boston net, which paved the way to a Boston turnover and Steven Stamkos one-time bomb that tied a game that the Lightning ultimately won in overtime. It could have been a hook, a trip, a hold, you name it. And it was infinitely more of a penalty than anything Acciari allegedly did to Lightning defender Victor Hedman to ‘earn’ his penalty just seven minutes prior.

“Seem to be going down this road a lot lately in these things, about the non-calls,” Cassidy acknowledged. “It looked like [Kucherov] reached around, pulled [McAvoy] down. Charlie’s a strong guy, but it wasn’t called, and it’s in our net, and that’s that. There was nothing you can do about it after; you’ve got to keep playing, and we did.”

McAvoy — much like the centers that have been thrown out of the faceoff dot with at an absurd rate this postseason — says that he was not given an explanation as to why there was not a call. After the game, Rick Nash subtly hinted at the referees needing to be held accountable, asking the assembled media if they had access to talk to the referees.

And through four games, the overall numbers are damning.

In addition to two undeniably game-altering non-calls in the third period in two of the last three games, this is a series that’s featured 16 power-play opportunities for the Bolts compared to just nine for the Bruins. The Lightning have been on the power play for a total of 27:31 (the most among any team that’s played just four games this round) compared to just 10:37 for the Bruins. Excluding the five-game series between the Golden Knights and Sharks, which has an obvious leg up on every other series thus far, that 27:31 of time on the penalty kill for the Bruins is a staggering 8:06 more than the next-closest team. In a 243-minute series to date, being on the power play for nearly half an hour versus just 10 minutes is going to make a gigantic difference — and it has. Especially when you’re talking about taking legitimate chances away from a Boston power play that’s converted on four of their nine opportunities.

And this whole thing just kinda sucks, to be honest.

We’re talking about a second-round series between the Eastern Conference’s top two teams and critical moments of the game having heavy involvement and/or being decided by those other than the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Lightning have dominated play at five-on-five with a relentless forecheck and stifling defensive structure, and converted on their chances with far more regularity than an undeniable one-lined Boston squad. But they’ve also been gifted more chances than the Bruins, and that’s simply undeniable at this point. You want to see the Black and Gold battle through these incidents, too, and I think they for the most part have.

But it does hit a certain point where you simply throw your hands up and wonder what the hell is going on.

I mean, when you’re talking about one team having nearly double the power-play opportunities, and with plenty of opportunities for officials to ‘make it up’ with some home-cooking in Boston’s barn, how could you not?

Bruins president Cam Neely undoubtedly hit that point last night, with his hand pounding on the table of his press box seat, completely dumbfounded at what Kucherov got away with en route to Stamkos’ game-tying goal.

“As for the calls, we’re all kind of tired of talking about it,” Cassidy said after the Game 4 loss. “I think I heard someone say, suck it up and play, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to suck it up and play. I thought we did a good job with that. There was no unsportsmanlike, no warnings, we just tried to keep playing. That’s that.”

It’d just be great if the B’s desire to keep playing beyond Sunday’s Game 5 can be decided by just them and the Bolts.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.