MONTREAL — For what it’s worth, the Montreal Canadiens players were offered several opportunities to use the blatantly inconsistent officiating in their 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars as a crutch to explain how they blew a 3-0 lead and dropped a fourth consecutive game — but none of them did.
Not even Max Domi, who was bleeding profusely from a cut to his lip that opened up following a third-period collision with Stars defenceman Jamie Oleksiak, one that got worse after he took a straight arm to the face from Mattias Janmark in overtime.
He said, “No comment on that,” when asked about the officiating.
It was only after his brief scrum that we asked Domi to explain why he was bleeding, and he said, “Two high-sticks right to the face.”
Joel Armia was at the other end of the dressing room. He searched for some way to explain how a hook he got called for in the second period — a seemingly innocuous one-handed stick lift — went unbalanced when he was pulled down on the rush in overtime.
“The ref said I toe-picked,” said Armia.
Admittedly, Armia went down easy on the play in question. But so did Andrej Sekera to draw the penalty on Armia that led to the power play Dallas scored its second goal on.
It was just five minutes before that goal that Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot was tripped in the offensive zone. Frustrated with the no-call, Chiarot took a one-handed swing at Blake Comeau, slashed him on the back of the leg and was called for it. He wasn’t available to comment, though.
Ilya Kovalchuk also wasn’t around to discuss a slash that broke his stick and went un-penalized. And Brendan Gallagher was getting treatment for a leg injury he suffered early in the first period, so he wasn’t available to explain what was said in his exchange with official Dean Morton, which left him incensed after Tyler Seguin scored his second goal of the game with a backhand shot at 2:52 of overtime.
Cameras caught Morton telling Gallagher, “Go (expletive) yourself.”
Gallagher retorted, “You want me to go (expletive) myself,” which he repeated before telling Morton to shut the (expletive) up. And then he shattered his stick to smithereens on his way off the ice.
All the players who were available in the room after the game took ownership for letting this crucial game slip away.
But Canadiens coach Claude Julien didn’t mince his words, neither in French nor in English, when he was asked whether he was more frustrated with his team for blowing a 3-0 lead or with the officiating. And we don’t blame him for venting.
“We’re up 3-0, we’re playing well,” Julien said. “We make a bad mistake and give them the puck on the first goal [Marco Scandella passed it directly to Joe Pavelski, and Janmark finished the play]. But in those situations after that we could have had power plays… There’s so many… It was such a poorly managed game, let’s put it that way.
“I think Kovalchuk gets an automatic penalty, that slash. And I think on Chiarot, if you look at the penalty, or the replay, he gets tripped and he gives a one-hand slash, so we get the slash and no trip. Armia — if that’s a hook, well then in overtime there should have been a penalty on him. Max, in overtime there, gets a stick in the mouth, he’s bleeding from the mouth, there’s no penalty there.
“Like I said, (the officials) looked frustrated, or one of them looked frustrated tonight — the referee. He should have been, because to me it was embarrassing. I can’t say anything else. We take responsibility for some of our stuff and when we’re not good I’m going to stand up here and say we weren’t good enough tonight. Well, tonight we had to beat two teams and it was tough.”
There’s no excuse dropping a game the way the Canadiens did, but there’s also no denying the validity of Julien’s comments afterwards.
And his frustration, in a season that’s seen his team lead the NHL in shots and high-danger scoring chances (according to naturalstattrick.com) but draw the 25th-most penalties, understandably boiled over.
It also obviously enraged Julien that there was no accountability from Morton, who refused to talk to him after the game.
“It was out of the question to talk to the ref,” Julien said. “He was yelling at our players. They weren’t even able to speak to him, he was yelling and telling them to get lost. He showed his frustration, but I didn’t talk to him. I didn’t get to say a word.”
The words Julien said in his press conference are all but guaranteed to get him fined by the league. It’s a fact he seemed perfectly at ease with as he delivered his rant in both languages.
Somebody had to say something, because it was farcical the way things played out — with the Stars likely deserving more than two power plays they got in the game and the Canadiens certainly deserving more than the zero they got.
In French, Julien added, “Some people are going to have to be held accountable for this.”
As for the players, they owned up to losing the game on their own.
It was their fourth game in six nights and the second of back-to-backs. It seemed clear they were lower on energy than the rested Stars, but they refused to factor that into why they dropped the game.
“(Fatigue) catches up to everybody,” said Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. “A lot of teams are battling through this. This month is a grind for everybody, so I don’t think we can use that as an excuse.”