Lightning fans may lose their minds when seeing this interference non-call

Please, do not question the integrity of on-ice officials in the National Hockey League.

Their jobs are both difficult and thankless, not to mention highly scrutinized by millions of fans around North America.

So when you see or hear about another controversy in another NHL playoff series, just understand the blame should not automatically be placed at the skates of the men in stripes.

Instead, blame their bosses.

My goodness, can the NHL go a single week in the postseason without having its competence questioned? It’s almost as if league officials are trying to generate headlines with inexplicable, contradictory calls out of Toronto.

If you stopped paying attention when the Lightning were eliminated after two goals were disallowed because of debatable goaltender interference calls in Game 5 against Florida, the NHL struck again Sunday night in Game 4 of the Panthers-Bruins series.

Florida center Sam Bennett shoved Boston’s Charlie Coyle into goaltender Jeremy Swayman and then flipped a loose puck into an open net for a game-tying goal in the third period of an eventual 3-2 Panthers victory.

The Bruins cried goaltender interference and asked the league’s situation room in Toronto to review the play. League officials watched video — which clearly shows Bennett cross-checking Coyle into Swayman — and decided to let the play stand. The explanation was that the goal would have been scored anyway.

Excuse me?

If I may digress for a second, Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made a remarkable, diving stick save against Tampa Bay’s Matt Dumba in a similar open-net situation in the first round. Give Bobrovsky 100 chances to make that save, and he likely misses it 99 times.

The point is not that Swayman probably wouldn’t have made the save; the point is he wasn’t given an opportunity because of a penalty committed by Bennett. A penalty that was clearly evident on video. And even if officials will not retroactively call cross-checking, Coyle was still shoved into his goalie, which is blatant interference.

The two Lightning goals disallowed in the Florida series absolutely changed the tone of an elimination game. Contact with the goaltender was incidental in both cases — Anthony Duclair’s skate makes contact with Bobrovsky’s glove in the crease in one, and Anthony Cirelli bumps Bobrovsky while jostling for position in another — but league officials decided it warranted taking points off the board.

At the time, I did not make a big deal about either call.

Why? Because I firmly believe referee’s decisions — right or wrong — are a part of the game. It’s no different than a shooter missing an open net or a goaltender allowing a soft goal. You accept it, and you move on.

But there has to be consistency from the league office. The rule clearly states it is interference if a defensive player is shoved into his goaltender. That’s exactly what happened. Just because it was already a high-danger scoring chance does not mean you ignore a violation. That’s absurd.

Social media has been abuzz about the call ever since it came down, and the situation has not been helped that on-ice officials and the league’s player safety department also blew a critical call involving Bennett in Game 3.

In a play that looked innocuous at the time, Bennett and Boston forward Brad Marchand collided near the bench. It looked like a normal hit, except Marchand went down in a heap and was eventually ruled out of Game 4. It took some time, but a video replay was later unearthed that showed that Bennett punched Marchand in the face when they collided, which explains Marchand’s severe reaction.

Again, you cannot blame on-ice officials, because it happened quickly and did not look suspicious. But isn’t that type of video review exactly why the NHL has a player safety department? How does a cheap shot like that — TNT analyst Colby Armstrong said on air about Bennett, “He’s sneaky and he’s nasty. He’s a nasty, nasty man.” — not lead to a suspension? Especially since Boston had to play without Marchand in Game 4.

Look, I cannot emphasize enough how difficult the job is for on-ice officials. The game moves quickly, and bodies are flying everywhere. Questionable calls, missed calls, bad calls are to be expected. It’s part of the heartbreak of sport.

But there’s enough technology today to make sure the most egregious calls can be rectified. That there is some consistency to the way calls are interpreted from game to game and series to series.

Isn’t it time that the NHL figures that out?

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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