The main reason we've ridiculed the notion of a grand conspiracy against the Detroit Red Wings in the last few seasons is because it completely falls apart upon the application of elementary logic.
The Wings generate interest in the NHL. They generate ratings, which makes them a four-leaf clover in a league of weeds. They interest fans while two-dozen teams cause apathy. Their gear sells. They're a flagship, Original-Six franchise based in the U.S.
There is every reason to believe that the "conspiracy" or "bias" against Detroit is a series of painful coincidences connected, and amplified, by a minority of Red Wings fans who wear institutional scheming like a warm blanket to shelter them from Detroit's occasional failures as a team.
The officiating Sunday night was atrocious. It was unforgiveable. There have been a few instances in these playoffs in which the referees seemed as though they were getting paid by the ill-conceived penalty, and last night was one of them. Ten power plays for the San Jose Sharks in their 4-3 victory, and four for the Wings. It was an embarrassment.
But it was also an isolated situation. Coaches work the refs in every series and the refs respond. When Tomas Holmstrom starts getting hit with interference penalties, it isn't an edict from Gary Bettman, it's an official taking the opposing coach's words into consideration and acting on them.
Chris McCosky of the Detroit News believes that the events after Game 1 may have led to the disparity of calls in Game 2:
After Game 1, Mike Babcock chides fellow Western Canadian Devin Setoguchi for embellishing an obvious slashing call. Now, even though Babcock's target was Setoguchi only, referees hate to hear that kind of stuff. It makes it look like they were duped and they tend to take deep offense.
So Sharks coach Todd McLellan wisely counters Babcock's comment by praising the integrity of the officials. Brilliant.
Come to Game 2 and the Sharks are diving all over the ice -- at least that's how it looked to me, especially goalie Evgeni Nabokov -- and the referees reward the Sharks with 10 power plays to four for the Wings. Coincidence? I don't know, but clearly, McLellan has the early lead in the working-the-refs department.
Coming up, a look at the many bad calls of Game 2 and the harsh, and expected, reaction from Wings writers and bloggers.
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press explains the awful night:
The Sharks had the man advantage for a 4 1/2 -minute stretch in the third period thanks to three successive calls against the Wings.
Babcock could only laugh on the bench after Niklas Kronwall's suspect hooking call against Pavelski gave San Jose another 5-on-3 at a crucial juncture, same as the start of the third period in Game 1. But that was nothing compared to the love tap Todd Bertuzzi gave Marc-Edouard Vlasic from behind in back of the San Jose net. Vlasic performed a dive worthy of a Sonny Liston bout, but it was Bertuzzi who sat for two minutes.
Steve Schrader of the Freep says the voices on Versus were on the foul scent of the officiating as well:
If the numbers don't speak loudly enough, here's a neutral voice, Versus analyst Daryl Reaugh, who again didn't think much of the officiating, this time by Kevin Pollock and Brad Watson.
"I think you have to add 'allegedly' to most of these calls here tonight," Reaugh said.
That was early in the second period, after a goalie interference call against Todd Bertuzzi. And it didn't get any better. Reaugh sounded off again after a third-period call against Bertuzzi.
"Holding? Wow. Really?" he said. "He's taken two penalties in the first eight games of the playoffs this year and has taken eight tonight. I don't know that either one of them was actually an infraction."
I want so much to believe that there is not a double-standard, that there is no conspiracy, but in tonight's game I can't.
I'm not going to go through each penalty and/or non-call or anything, either you already believe what I'm writing or nothing I can say will ever change your mind. I'll just point out a couple things. I said at the time of each that the Patrick Marleau boarding call and the Dany Heatley goalie interference calls were crap. So, yes, some bad calls went San Jose's way.
Penalties I didn't like going against Detroit? Both goalie interference calls. Evgeni Nabokov dove, plain and simple. Todd Bertuzzi's "holding" penalty that ended up being the first penalty of the five-on-three San Jose used to tie the game. Bertuzzi knocked his man down but to call it a hold when he clearly didn't hold him shows me the ref didn't see it and made the call on the outcome.
Dan Cleary's slash on Blake for the Sharks' second (though short) two-man advantage. A Mickey Redmond favorite, for sure. Cleary made no contact with Blake, contact was only with his stick, and the call was made only because Blake's stick broke.
Like many that are outraged over Sunday night's officiating, Matt Saler of On The Wings makes the point that the 2-0 series deficit goes beyond the penalty box:
Say all you want about the officiating. It sucked. The officials clearly have no professional pride to fall continually for the Sharks world-class diving.
But here's the thing. The Wings have to overcome that. They know what the score is. They know what they're up against. But they're shooting themselves in the foot with a lack of hustle. They can overcome this crap. They just have to work for it. (And maybe, you know, win a faceoff or two every once and a while.)
Terry Foster of the Detroit News actually had the guts to suggest the Wings fans are being over-reactive:
Here is my complaint. Red Wing fans have become Michigan football fans. They never lose games; officials take it from them.
I will give you this. I saw the Sharks dive and I saw shaky calls against the Wings. But here is something I saw that you didn't. There were shaky calls against the Sharks also.
I just get tired of the same cry after every Red Wings playoff loss. You always blame officials. You always believe the NHL wants the Wings to lose.
Fans always want to let the Red Wings off the hook. Here is a dirty little secret nobody wants to hear. The Red Wings played dumb hockey. They slashed and tripped and played like knuckleheads. Was I the only one to see that?
No, you weren't the only one. But some Wings fans and bloggers are too far down the rabbit hole to consider that. Finally, George Malik of Snapshots believes Game 2 was proof of a grand conspiracy to undermine one of the NHL's flagship franchises:
Yes, the Red Wings have been out-played, but it's pretty hard to win Game 2 when you're playing against 18 players, a goaltender and two referees. This game was disgusting and pathetic, and if there ever was proof positive of an anti-Red Wing bias, this is it.
The NHL should be ashamed of itself and Brad Watson and Kevin Pollock are nothing less than incompetent. The Red Wings will of course focus on what they have to do to get back into this series because that's what they do -- worry about themselves. But every fan comment regarding a pro-Sharks bias is accurate and valid right now.
Tonight's game was a screw-job, plain and simple, and that's no conspiracy theory -- that's a fact.
Malik titled his post "Game 2 is why Red Wings fans wear tinfoil hats."
One wonders where they stored them when the Red Wings had more power plays than Phoenix in Game 7 last round, including two in the third period to zero for the facing-elimination Coyotes. Being that, you know, the NHL owned one of those two teams.