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After Blackhawks’ penalty shot, what do we really want from NHL playoff officiating?

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was “surprised” referee Chris Rooney called a penalty shot on this play in Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday:

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Michael Frolik blocked his shot, Colaiacovo chased him down the ice, delivered a slash to the Blackhawks’ forward as he was about to shoot on Jimmy Howard and then was whistled for a penalty shot. Frolik scored on a rather wicked move against Howard, with his goal standing up as the eventual game-winner to force Game 7 between the Wings and Hawks.

“I haven’t seen the play. I didn’t think I hit him in the hand. I thought I hit him in his pants. It’s an unfortunate call,” Colaiacovo said after the game to the Free Press.

When did we get to a point in the NHL when the correct call became the unfortunate call?

From the NHL’s rule book, the conditions for calling a penalty shot:

There are four (4) specific conditions that must be met in order for the Referee to award a penalty shot for a player being fouled from behind. They are:

(i) The infraction must have taken place in the neutral zone or attacking zone, (i.e. over the puck carrier’s own blue line);

(ii) The infraction must have been committed from behind;

(iii) The player in possession and control (or, in the judgment of the Referee, clearly would have obtained possession and control of the puck) must have been denied a reasonable chance to score (the fact that he got a shot off does not automatically eliminate this play from the penalty shot consideration criteria. If the foul was from behind and he was denied a “more” reasonable scoring opportunity due to the foul, then the penalty shot should be awarded);

(iv) The player in possession and control (or, in the judgment of the Referee, clearly would have obtained possession and control of the puck) must have had no opposing player between himself and the goalkeeper.

On Colaiacovo’s play, it (i) took place in the attacking zone and (ii) was committed from behind and (iii) Frolik was denied a scoring chance and (iv) there was no one between Frolik and Howard.

It’s a clear-as-day penalty shot call.

But as Mooney saw it on Puck Daddy last night, so did many who felt the call was cheap:

Speaking of easy, how about that call? As hooks or slashes go, there wasn't much there. Considering what the standard for contact has been in this chippy series, one wonders how what amount to a love tap can be enough to grant a penalty shot in the third period of a one-goal Game 6. It was a gift for Frolik, but give him credit for making the most of it.

Here’s why the penalty shot call was the least bit controversial: We’ve been conditioned not to expect them to look like this.

Penalty shots are such game-changers, they’re usually reserved for dramatic hooks from behind that result in flopping skaters desperately trying to get a shot away, like an NBA player hurling up a three when he knows he’s been hacked beyond the arc.

A two-hander on the gloves in this situation is rarely called as a penalty shot – it’s a 2-minute minor for slashing at best, despite meeting every condition for it necessitating a free shot at the goalie.

Which brings us to the real problem here: The Frolik call was such a jarring shock to the system because we witnessed an NHL referee sacking up and making the correct call on a play like this … in an elimination playoff game.

How many counterarguments have you heard regarding this play, or any controversial penalty, that go something like this:

“You just don’t make that call in a Game 6 (or Game 7) in the playoffs.”

So what do we want out of officiating? To call a two-hander on the gloves from a defender trailing the play as a penalty shot, or to have the refs continue to back-pocket that as a nuclear option?

And what do we want out of playoff officiating? To leave the bold calls for the regular season and swallow the whistle for four rounds?

The Frolik penalty shot was a lot of things – controversial, clutch, not Jimmy Howard’s finest moment. But mostly it was refreshing to see.

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