Sunday, May 16, 2010
Nefarious Blackhawks hit new low in sending wrong player to the box in Game 1 victory
(Photo Credit: Sean Leahy, Yahoo! Sports)
As time was winding down in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago was desperately holding to a 2-1 lead. The Sharks were coming on strong and created several dangerous chances, taking advantage of an unusually sloppy Chicago defence. The final blow looked to come with 54 seconds left in the game, as an out-of-position Chicago defender was whistled for an obvious trip on San Jose’s Devin Setoguchi. However, the Blackhawks’ penalty killing unit would kill the rest of the game to preserve their team’s 2-1 win and take a 1-0 series lead against a San Jose team that they’d be fighting for top spot in the West all season long.
Yeah, yeah I hear you- teams get called for late game penalties all the time, what’s so special about this one? This one, however, is different from the other late game penalties because the referees sent Kris Versteeg to the box instead of the actual culprit, Dave Bolland, which was a key error in that it preserved Chicago’s best penalty killer for service. Bolland was no slouch either, since he broke up several Shark plays to kill the penalty, so the error actually did make the difference in the game that was intended. What made it worse was not just the fact the referees sent the wrong player to the penalty box but was a report that the Blackhawks themselves contributed to the error, purposely sending Versteeg instead of Bolland to the box with the referees failing to catch the mistake.
The source of this nefarious action came at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “iDesk”, where veteran insider Scott Morrison stated the incident happened because both Bolland and Versteeg went off on a line change. Since the culprit was on the bench, referees Brad Watson and Paul Devorski had to pull the offender off the bench, reportedly having to go to coach Joel Quenneville for help. Reports Morrison, noting that Versteeg’s #32 looked a lot like Bolland’s #36 because of the Blackhawks’ lettering, Quenneville sent Versteeg to the penalty box, saving Bolland for the penalty kill. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, the fact that Morrison is the sole person to report this action- it doesn’t come up anywhere else on the Internet- and the fact that Sharks coach Todd McClelland didn’t raise it as an issue casts doubt on whether or not this shenanigan actually occurred. However, it isn’t a report that should be taken lightly. If the Blackhawks did, in fact, purposely send the wrong player to the penalty box, then it’s a form of cheating and the integrity of the game result is in question. Current rules on ineligible players in the National Hockey League are sketchy- the NHL rulebook doesn’t specifically mention a penalty for deliberately sending the wrong player to the penalty box, but it could be interpreted under a few rules, such as delay of game or “deliberate illegal substitution” (which calls for a penalty shot if the penalty time would be longer than the rest of the time in the game, which was the case on Sunday), so the Sharks could have had a 6-on-3 power play if they had spoken up. There doesn’t appear to be a specific penalty imposed for ineligible players after the fact, except for a line where the incident “must be reported to the Commissioner”, with no other specifics.
However, as TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported last December, when the Montreal Canadiens tried a similar gambit- call-up Ryan White was pulled from the game during warm-ups after referees ruled him ineligible- the penalty for using White during the game would have been a forfeit of the Canadiens’ victory that night. This isn’t the same thing as a player not on the team sheet being used in the game, but Bolland was technically ineligible to participate, and if the Blackhawks purposely “assisted” the referees’ mistake, it could be argued that Chicago could be forced to forfeit their victory as well. It’s not likely to happen, especially if the Sharks won’t raise the issue, but if Morrison’s report is true then it shouldn’t be brushed aside and something should be done. Considering that the performance of the officials has been spotty at best- recall Game 2 of the Washington Capitals-Montreal Canadiens series, Game 4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Montreal Canadiens series, the strange too-many-men-on-the-ice call against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings, the light penalty on Marian Hossa after drilling Dan Hamhuis from behind, Game 1 of the San Jose Sharks-Detroit Red Wings series, the non-call on the head shot on Penguin Jordan Leopold by Ottawa Senator Andy Sutton, among other things- the NHL can’t afford anymore issues of integrity come up during these playoffs. This spring has been the best so far since the lockout- it’d be a shame if it was decided by shoddy officiating. Of course, considering this is the NHL, that just may be the course of action anyway, but I’m not holding my breath.
The NHL’s made a killing with those “history will be made” ads. It’s up to them to make sure the zebras don’t end up in one.
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