By Richard Eriksson on April 7, 2004 - 10:32pm
Penalties—or the fact that the refs actually called penalties—were the story of the game tonight as the Vancouver Canucks soundly defeated the Calgary Flames in game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canucks effectively scored all of their goals on the power play, 4 of them while a Calgary Flame was in the penalty box and the other, by Mattias Ohlund, while the Flames were about to be called for goaltender interference. Ohlund joined the rush because he knew he wouldn't have to double back if the Flames got the puck, but even then, since defensemen have joined the rush all season, a case could be made that Ohlund would have joined the rush anyway.
The Flames were successful on the powerplay as well, especially when the Canucks were called for too many men on the ice. I have to question some of the calls as being makeup calls—and both teams benefited from them—and I hear that first games of series are called tight before the refs "let them play" as series progress. I'm all for "letting them play", but every violation of the rules must be called every time in every situation, whether it be the second period of the first game of the season, late in the game when a team is trying to make the playoffs, and yes, even in double overtime of a playoff game. It's the last point where I depart from many fans, who think that no team should be given a power play in sudden death overtime in the playoffs, but we don't let students cheat on final exams, when the final grades are on the line. So under what principle do we let hockey players cheat when the game is on the line?
It's very, very early in the playoff season, and we have no overtime games to see whether the referees are going to enforce the rules—the more penalties refs call, the fewer times they will happen, and the more exciting hockey gets—and evidently past experience suggests that the tight enforcement will dissipate over the next few games, so I'm not terribly optimistic that enforcement levels would be the same throughout. But the way you increase goals is by "letting them play", and the way you let the stars of the league play is by calling every penalty when they happen.