It's Thursday morning which means it's finally game day. The Red Wings and Blackhawks have enjoyed the rarity that is the "extra day off" twice in this playoff series so far, and we're only at Game 4. For a Red Wing team that played 4 games in the final week of the season and then 7 in 14 days against Anaheim in the first round, the rest has been welcome.
Unfortunately, down time between games in this day and age means that we as fans get to do what we do best: complain about anything and everything that has happened so far. Games 1 and 2 didn't really provide us with much to talk about outside of our team's poor performance (the timing of which depended on who you cheered for), but Game 3 gave us plenty to talk about.
Game 3 was easily the best of the series to date because it was the first time that both teams actually showed up to play a competitive game. After rolling over for the Blackhawks in Game 1, Chicago returned the favor in Game 2, and both teams understood the importance of Game 3 and what a win would do for them going forward in the series.
Some Chicago fans will portray Game 3 as a situation where they out-played the Wings (by pointing to the shot totals) and will convince themselves that the controversial no-goal call against Andrew Shaw in the third period was the difference, because that would have tied the game and given the Blackhawks all the momentum. Detroit fans will likely point out that Niklas Hjalmarsson not getting called for boarding Johan Franzen led to Patrick Kane scoring, so the score should have been 2-1 anyway, and besides, Pavel Datsyuk scored 2 minutes later to give the Wings the lead.
Neither side is right and neither side is wrong, and that's what is so frustrating for a lot of people. Looking back at the no-goal, I can understand why the referees made the decision to wave off the goal, but if the situation was reversed and that was a Wing in the crease when that call is made, I'm probably using words that would make my daughter wonder whether I was a crazy person.
Conversely, I'm sure there are a lot of reasonable Hawk fans out there who, in their heart of hearts, know that had that been Niklas Kronwall hitting Patrick Sharp like that, and that led to a Henrik Zetterberg goal, they'd probably be pretty upset that what looked like an easy boarding call (especially considering all that had been called up to that point) was missed and led directly to a goal against.
When both sides of a series are pointing out calls (or non-calls) that had such a direct impact on the game, it becomes obvious that the referees have made themselves a focal point of the series, and that's something that no one wants to see. The best referees are the ones who you don't remember after a game is over, because they called a good game and didn't have any real influence on the final outcome.
Calls will be missed throughout a game, and that's just fine. I believe that those things tend to even out over the course of time, so if the Red Wings had more power plays or less isn't really a big deal. I'm also not one to believe that the referees had anything to do with the Wings winning or losing, so I don't get up in arms over every single thing I believe should or should not be a penalty. I don't have enough hair to concern myself with that stuff.
But after Monday's game all I could think about were those 2 instances and it made me sad, because these are two teams that are playing as if it's the final chapter of a storied rivalry and giving it everything they've got. The Hawks were the best team in the league over the course of the regular season, and the Red Wings are proving to be the plucky underdog that is playing their best hockey of the season at the right time. We should be sitting back and marveling at the talent of players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. We shouldn't have to spend hours upon hours arguing about semantics within a rule that may have altered the course of a playoff game.
At the end of the day all anyone should want is for the referees to do their jobs without being noticed. Bad calls will happen, but if both the winning and losing team is upset after a game then you know the referees haven't done what they're supposed to do. Going forward, one can only hope that Game 3 was an aberration and the teams are allowed to settle things on the ice. Besides, we don't want the Blackhawks and their fans to have any excuses in case they do end up losing this series.