Referee Stephen Walkom makes cut for conference finals after Game 7 controversy

No matter where your loyalties are between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings, it’s undeniable that the end of their Game 7 was marred by officiating controversies.

On Brent Seabrook’s game-winning goal, Dave Bolland of the Blackhawks appeared to get away with a boarding penalty on Gustav Nyquist, who gave up the puck for the eventual overtime tally.

But the only reason there was an overtime was thanks to referee Stephen Walkom, who handed out matching minors to Kyle Quincey and Brandon Saad that negated a Niklas Hjalmarsson goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation – a call that seemingly had no sense of timing, perspective or precision.

Lest you believe that baffling decision might keep Walkom from officiating another Game 7 in these playoffs, Mark Spector of Sportsnet reports that the referee is one of eight assigned to the conference finals.

According to Spector, Mark Joanette, Eric Furlatt, Wes McCauley, Dan O'Halloran, Dan O'Rourke, Chris Rooney, Stephen Walkom and Brad Watson will officiate the Boston Bruins vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Los Angeles Kings.

That means Tom Kowal, Chris Lee, Brad Meier and Kevin Pollock failed to make the cut for the final two rounds.

The Walkom advancement (sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel) should come as no surprise given his ties to the NHL front office as its former director of officiating. He’s generally well-liked by the players, and obviously had a bit more experience than many of the officials kicking around the NHL these days.

But still … that’s a hell of a lasting image before the next round.

Spector defended the call:

In the video, we see Walkom assess an altercation, yet he does not raise his arm for a penalty on Quincey. When Saad fights back, Walkom takes the opportunity to level coincidental penalties, as we’ll assume he’d rather not give the Blackhawks a power play with 1:49 left in the third period of a tied Game 7.

It’s an altercation behind the play, late in a decisive game. A punch or two, and two players fall to the ice. It’s the type of call made time after time in this situation, and hockey culture generally looks favourably on a referee who does not “influence the game” with a late power play.

What a bizarre concept: Make the call, but don’t dare make the correct call when you can instead give both teams a penalty so no one gets the advantage, except the team that might be better 4-on-4.

One last thing on Walkom: He's making some Blackhawks fans slowly reach for the tinfoil hat. As Adam Hoge of CBS Sports writes:

Of course, since he’s an NHL official, he would have done that anyway. How do we know that? Well, Walkom happens to be the referee who chose not to call Raffi Torres for any kind of penalty when he assaulted Marian Hossa in the playoffs last year. Walkom was staring right at the hit and let it go, even as Hossa was taken to a local hospital and suffered from post-concussion symptoms for months.

The NHL responded by sending Walkom to Game 7 of the Bruins-Capitals series. That, despite the fact that the league ended up suspending Torres 25 games, essentially admitting that Walkom indeed blew the call.

Well, it really doesn't matter. We're sure he would have given Hossa a matching minor for delay of game anyway ...