Wed May 25 03:12pm EDT
In their regular-season finale against the Carolina Hurricanes and in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning needed to kill a combined 13 power plays.
How many were they given? Two.
Referee Eric Furlatt worked both of those games, as well as at least two more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that featured the Lightning. Both of those games saw the Lightning, who had the 12th-most minor penalties in the NHL during the regular season (335), play short-handed more often than their opponents.
Furlatt and Kelly Sutherland are working Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night, as the Lightning attempt to stave off elimination by the Boston Bruins.
You expect to hear coaches talk about having to game-plan for their team's opponents; rarely do you hear a coach candidly talk about game-planning for a certain official.
Yet there was Guy Boucher in his pregame press conference, either working the refs or laying his concerns out for public consumption about Furlatt's history with his team. So the question becomes: If this disparity is so evident, why is this official working Game 6?
From Wednesday's presser:
Q. Guy, do you get concerned at all sometimes when you see the officials who are on the sheet? You get one particular tonight who's been very lopsided the past few times.
COACH BOUCHER: 24-9 against, right? Yes, I'm aware of it. Very aware of it. Very, very aware of it. It has been a part of our discussions quite a few times in the last game, the last games we did have that particular ref. And it is lopsided.
But the only thing we can control is what we do on the ice and hope that things will be fair like it is with everybody else.
Q. Do you block that out of your mind, though? Do you have to ignore it, who it is, and just go about your business?
COACH BOUCHER: You want to ignore it, but you're right, after repetition, it is a concern. But we're planning on being strong mentally and forcing whoever is a ref to see that we're very disciplined.
Very, very aware of it. Here are Furlatt's games with the Bolts this postseason.
Game 1 vs. Pittsburgh
Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh
Game 2 vs. Boston
Now, there's always another official on the ice as a check and balance. But the disparity is there; what, exactly, did Ryan Malone(notes) do to this guy in a former life to earn 14 penalty minutes in three games?
To hear a coach — even one as intentionally dramatic as Boucher — state his case about a particular official ahead of his team's most important game of the postseason is eye-opening.
So why is referee Eric Furlatt working Game 6 for Tampa/Boston?
Mainly because the NHL isn't going to allow a coach to dictate terms about who officiates his team's games, and there's no telling whether or not the Lightning even made the request. But whether he's an influence in Game 6, or is now influenced by Boucher's gamesmanship, perhaps skipping his turn in the rotation would have been the right play here for the league, based on recent history.