The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been unpredictable from every aspect imaginable. That is, of course, with the exemption of one constant, which has been the despicable officiating and perplexing off-ice discipline that's taken control of series after series in this postseason, or at least attempted to.
So the display witnessed Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center in Game 4 between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers shouldn't have been as awe-inspiring as it was made out to be. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the officials missed Brian Boyle having the stick hacked out of his hands by Alex Ovechkin, or Ryan Callahan being hauled down by Brooks Laich as he carried the puck through center ice. Or even the Capitals punching the puck into the crowd within the defensive zone, which is an automatic delay of game minor when abiding by the rulebook (are one of those even in existence anymore?).
Nor should one have been flabbergasted when late in the third period Carl Hagelin was whistled for slashing as John Carlson simply dropped his stick in hope of deceiving the officials. He was successful, or at least it seemed that way, and Mike Green went on to score the game-winning goal on the ensuing powerplay for Washington.
In addition to all that occurred in the third period, or didn't occur based on your vantage point, there was Alex Ovechkin's lunging hit to the head of Dan Girardi in the second period which was deemed a two-minute charging minor, but nothing further. NBC Network's Pierre McGuire should have known better than to predict that a player of star caliber such as Ovechkin would receive more than two minutes for a hit the League is supposedly working to remove from the game all together.
And so should have those who expected any supplementary discipline to come out of this for the repeat offender in Ovechkin. Reports this morning state that No. 8 was not even required to speak with VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan over the phone for targeting the head of Girardi, who by the way has been Ovechkin's worst nightmare all series long at even strength. Coincidence?
But the NHL would never risk Game 5 ratings to properly discipline Ovechkin, who claimed the hit was shoulder-to-shoulder contact.
The fact that the Rangers must defeat both the opponent and the officials to go anywhere in these playoffs was established long ago. Shall we rehash Game 6 against the Ottawa Senators, in which the officials nearly brought the Sens back into the game singlehandedly with the Blueshirts facing elimination? Or how about the Winter Classic back in January where something very similar occurred against the Philadelphia Flyers?
This is nothing new.
All that being said, the officials cannot be used as the scapegoat for the Rangers failing to get the job done in Game 4, or any game for that matter. The Rangers' deficiency on the scoreboard potentially allows the officials to take control of the game because one disadvantage against New York harms them more than it should. Any powerplay handed to the Caps does 3x the damage the Blueshirts manage to muster up when they have the man advantage.
But this is an issue that New York has faced and fought through before, and will have to again in what has now become a best of three series beginning tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden. So instead of the coach walking out of the press room, or players rumored to be screaming and slamming doors in the locker room, it's time to get a grip on the situation and realize that just one to two goals will not cut it against this opponent.
Whether the officiating is one-sided or not, the Rangers must find a way to win two of their next three or they will be going home.