DETROIT, Michigan -- In yet another display of the way NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Director of Officiating Andy Van Hellemond seem determined to drive away all of hockey's fans, the on-ice officials took it upon themselves to give the Vancouver Canucks a 4-3 overtime win over the Red Wings.
The Canucks are thought by many analysts to be the NHL front office's Chosen Team to win the Stanley Cup this year so that Commissioner Bettman can prove that small-market Canadian teams don't actually need any help. Vancouver, with its rough, thuggish style of play guided by the sick mind of coach Marc Crawford, has probably been the main beneficiary of the League's directive to make phantom obstruction calls instead of focusing more on blatant and dangerous charging, boarding, cross-checking, and high-sticking calls.
The Red Wings got off to a good start against the Canucks, in spite of the fact that one of the referees seemed to be having a Cold War flashback and decided to fight for Truth, Justice, and The American Way by calling non-existent penalties against young Russians Pavel Datsyuk and Dmitri Bykov, who were all of 12 and 13 years old respectively when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Vancouver golden boy Todd Bertuzzi actually spent time in the penalty box for mugging Chris Chelios, but the Red Wings didn't get on the board until early in the second period. They had another power play, this one because Vancouver had had too many men on the ice. Sergei Fedorov, quite happy with his new higher level of ice time, took a pass from Brett Hull and one-timed the puck from the right point. The puck sailed past Dan Cloutier, who perhaps still has nightmares of the shot by Lidstrom which beat him from center ice in last year's playoffs.
Henrik Zetterberg increased Detroit's lead shortly thereafter. Datsyuk made a good pass through a few pairs of legs to Zetterberg in front of the net, and Zetterberg easily flipped the puck over Cloutier.
When the Red Wings scored two goals, including a power play goal, within the space of 1:03, it soon became obvious that Detroit would not be getting another power play. But that didn't seem to matter. The Wings played a very strong period, continually pressuring the Canucks in their own zone and easily killing off a phantom penalty on Datsyuk.
But when Luc Robitaille scored early in the third and Cloutier ran away to hide behind the mattress-sized leg pads of his backup goalie Peter Skudra, the referees realized that the Canucks might actually LOSE, so they sprang into action. (Who knows what evil the League might wreak upon the officials of a loss by Vancouver?!?!?) First came a hooking call on Bykov. Again. The Wings were handling the penalty-killing role nicely, until Bertuzzi dragged his feet just enough to pitch him over Lidstrom's skate and went flying like a clumsy ballerina. (Really, the man has a future as a melodramatic soap opera actor when his playing days are over.... or at least he would, if he weren't one of the ugliest men in North America.)
Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and Chris Chelios did a heroic job of killing off the 1:02 of 5-on-3 play. Chelios did an excellent job of helping Curtis Joseph defend the net and harrassing the Canuck attackers down low, while Maltby and Draper used their speed and agility to force the other attackers to make quick passes and play keep-away instead of setting up a scoring chance. Bykov came out of the box to help, and the Wings sent the puck down the ice.
Trent Klatt carried the puck back into the Detroit zone and crashed the net. Literally. Like a steamroller. The puck preceded Klatt into the net by an inch or two before the net came up off its moorings, but it should seem fairly obvious to most observers that Joseph cannot stop the puck when he is being leveled by a 225-pound man with full forward momentum. Apparently referee Don Van Massenhoven is no ordinary observer. In the strange and unusual physics of his little world, Joseph would have been perfectly capable of being run over and of making the save at the same time, so Van Massenhoven waved off any unimportant objections such as "goaltender interference" and allowed the goal.
The Canucks pulled Skudra and his mattresses out of the net to send in an extra skater with just over a minute left to play, and Van Massenhoven had another chance to shine. The Canucks were pressuring in the Detroit zone, and Lidstrom sent the puck around behind the net so the Wings could pick it up and clear it on the other side. Van Massenhoven was in the way. The puck hit his skate, his foot moved, and somehow the puck went right to the stick blade of Markus Naslund. What a coincidence! (I've seen goals disallowed for less of a kicking motion than Van Massenhoven used in his assist. Sure, you can kick the puck if you're only setting up a goal, but that's only if you're actually ON THE TEAM!) Naslund, who isn't leading the League in goals for nothing, sent the puck right into the empty corner of the net, in spite of the way everything suddenly seemed to go into slow motion and Cujo flung himself across the crease to try to somehow block the shot.
Goalies sometimes see in slow motion. If a goalie can somehow project his slow motion view of the puck to the fans in the audience and the TV viewers at home, then you know you are watching a very powerful goalie indeed. But a goalie's power matters little when the referee gets the first assist on the game-tying goal""even Terry Sawchuk himself, who had over 100 career shutouts with shorter seasons and much smaller equipment than the NHL has now, would have been hard-pressed to make that save. (By the way, does ESPN know ANYTHING about sports history? Where do they get off calling Patrick Wah the best goalie ever? Have they never heard of Sawchuk? Esposito? Vezina? Crozier? But don't get me started on that.)
So, the game went to overtime, and the Canucks proceeded to blatantly obstruct the Red Wings' attempts to get the puck and set up plays. Hmm, not so quick with the whistles now? Can't imagine why.... Marek Malik scored the game winner with 1:58 remaining, and Skudra proceeded to jump up and down as if he'd actually done something. Meanwhile, the Red Wings proceeded to go to the dressing room to regroup and try to wash away the nastiness of a game decided by referees before facing the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. Fortunately, the Oilers are NOT the Chosen Team this season, so there may even be a chance of a somewhat fair bit of officiating.