“We’re not going to concern ourselves with the officials – until they stink, and they go against us, right?” — Bruce Cassidy, Monday
BOSTON – So this is how we find out Cam Neely is a lefty.
The uncalled penalty was so blatant and so instrumental to the outcome of the game and, possibly, the championship that the president of the Boston Bruins stood up enraged in the press box, snatched a water bottle with his left hand and, in one fluid motion, whipped it against the wall like Pedro Martinez.
We imagine the Dasani container like commissioner Gary Bettman’s head after seeing the St. Louis Blues get jerked by a hand pass in the previous round: trying not to explode.
Happy 54th birthday, Mr. Neely.
Your team is the latest to get screwed by an egregious officiating gaffe in a pivotal moment of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.
With the series knotted at two, and the Blues leading 1-0 midway through the third period of Game 5 on Thursday, Tyler Bozak took out a puck-playing Noel Acciari’s left leg from behind, flinging his opponent on his back. A clear trip in plain sight of officials Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari.
Seconds later, David Perron squeaked the puck through Tuukka Rask, giving Bozak an assist and the Blues a 2-0 lead.
Because Jake DeBrusk later scored for the home side, the Perron strike became the winner. The goal that gives St. Louis two cracks to win its first-ever Cup, starting with a home-ice opportunity Sunday? It’s charged with controversy.
“The National Hockey League’s getting a black eye with their officiating in these playoffs, and there’s another one that’s going to be talked about,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
“It’s right in front of the official. It’s a slewfoot. Our guy’s gone. The spotter took him out of the game for a possible concussion. I mean, it’s blatant. It had a big effect on the game.
“It really made it difficult for us to get the win tonight. So, I’m disappointed.”
Cassidy was hardly the only one.
A shower of rally towels, sticky cups and water bottles, like the one Neely had chucked, littered the ice surface as fans chanted, “Bulls—!” More garbage rained as the shovel crew needed another lap to tidy up the mess.
“It happens when people expect things to go a certain way, and it doesn’t,” Bozak said, following the 2-1 squeaker. “It happened in Toronto quite a bit. It happened in St. Louis before. Emotions run high, especially at this time of year.”
Bozak dismissed the trip as a simple “puck battle,” yet he raised his right arm, opened his palm and appeared to be appealing a whistle that never sounded.
Was he surprised there was no call?
“It’s a fast game out there, I couldn’t tell ya,” Bozak said. “I saw the puck there, went for it, we got it back, and he was down. I don’t really know what happened to be honest with you, but we’ll take it.”
“It’s not like something crazy was missed,” Perron added. “I don’t agree with it, obviously. Anything I say won’t sound good. Sorry, I’m French. I could say it better in French.”
Acciari, still pleading on his knees as the Blues celebrated behind him, saw it differently.
“It’s just kind of embarrassing,” he said.
Earlier in the game, Torey Krug disputed a hard check from Zach Sanford and Marcus Johansson could make a case that his head was targeted by Ivan Barbashev.
“Those are the hits they want to get out of the game, correct? That’s what I hear a lot about,” Cassidy said.
But it’s the lack of a whistle after the Bozak trip that’s most enraging the whistleblowers.
“That’s a penalty every time. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I’m all for letting us play, but when it leads to scoring chances and the opposing team ends up with the puck, it should be going our way,” Krug said.
“It’s different game to game. You get two officials each game that come in and they try to establish a different standard. Sometimes it’s tough, but we’ll have to figure out what that standard is next game and try to live on the edge.”
Throw Bozak’s jutting leg on the pile with Timo Meier’s hand and Cody Eakin’s phantom high stick: no matter how the series ends, it won’t be forgotten.
“We don’t make comments on judgment calls within games. There are hundreds of judgment calls in every game,” officiating chief Stephen Walkom told a pool reporter. “The official on the play, he viewed it and he didn’t view it as a penalty at the time.”
Prior to this two-game winning streak that has given the Blues their first series lead, Blues coach Craig Berube’s tone was decidedly different.
“I don’t agree with all the calls,” Berube said Sunday. “We were the least penalized team in the playoffs coming into this round. Now all these penalties.”
Adding a rich little wrinkle to the controversy, Berube’s tone changed in the wake of Game 5.
“I’m not here to judge the officials and calls that could have been or couldn’t have. They go both ways,” he said. “We play a hard game. We’re a physical team. We forecheck hard. I’ll say it again: we are the least penalized team in the playoffs. End of story. I don’t need to talk any more about it.”
Cassidy believes the “narrative” has veered since Berube complained, and Patrice Bergeron was asked if Berube had subtly planted a seed in the stripes’ mind.
“I hope not,” Bergeron said. “I hope not, because that shouldn’t change anything.”
Unfortunately, the hoopla over the officiating obscures the facts: that the determined Blues earned this win; that Ryan O’Reilly has been the best skater on the ice in the past 120 minutes; that St. Louis has now shut down Boston’s power play five times straight; and that rookie Jordan Binnington pitched his best performance of the series, of his life, a 38-save gem.
After a silent Neely rode a crowded service elevator down six floors with the folks that will be writing about his water bottle, one reporter asked if he’d like to comment on the call that wasn’t.
Neely didn’t want to talk.
But the Stanley Cup Final now has two off-days so everyone else will.