- Last Updated: 3:22 AM, June 13, 2012
- Posted: 2:45 AM, June 13, 2012
When the NHL’s various constituencies meet in August to review the standards of officiating, it is imperative the congress conclude with a vow that penalties in October remain penalties in March remain penalties in April, May and June.
For it was apparent in dramatic fashion this season more than any time since the end of the lockout that referees, presumably operating under the NHL office’s imprimatur, became increasingly reluctant to cite obstruction infractions as the year evolved.
And as a by-product, the playing field already leveled to a great degree by the hard cap in conjunction with a growing number of coaches preaching inside-out defensive-zone packing, became as flat as the surface of the ice.
The Kings and Devils were pretty good teams that played up in the tournament, each knocking off three teams they had finished behind in the regular season, each taking out their respective conference’s first seed, with L.A. dispatching Vancouver in a routine five-game first-round series and the Devils taking care of the Rangers in six in the conference finals by winning the final three games, during which they never trailed.
This was, by the way, the first time in modern NHL history two bottom-half seeds reached the Final (Kings 8, Devils 6). But if the league adopts the four-conference format in which the opening two rounds of the playoffs will be intramural affairs, then teams lower overall in the standings will as a rule have an easier time of getting through as powerhouse conferences — e.g., the Atlantic including the Devils, Rangers, Flyers and Penguins — cannibalize their own early.
That’s another reason — if not the primary one — for the NHLPA to continue to oppose the league’s proposal.
The right team was crowned champion on Monday. The Kings manhandled the Devils pretty much from the Game 6 opening faceoff. Indeed, L.A. was the better team in each of the final five games of the series after the Game 1 stalemate, during which neither team played remotely well and in which the Kings prevailed in overtime.
There was little draw to the series until the Devils created the possibility they could create history. This dream, spun almost entirely by Martin Brodeur’s resolve, created the only drama in the Final that lacked marquee value or established stars of renown other than the one in the Devils crease.
But hey, you’re not going to get an Original Six team or one from Canada in the Final every season. And when you get right down to it, stars are becoming fewer and farther between again in this league, in which Alex Ovechkin can get less ice than Jay Beagle and gridlock is once again raining on the parade.
Wait; I know. Maybe Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov could have opposed one another in goal in every series.
The Devils, getting back to our story, were on the cusp of the cusp. But then came Steve Bernier. And how, so fast and so hard that, as he admitted, he couldn’t stop when he saw the No. 7 on Rob Scuderi’s back before slamming him face first into the glass for the five-minute major that turned potential history into fiction.
To clear up a misunderstanding: According to NHL VP Brendan Shanahan, who addressed the issue with The Post after Monday’s first period, even if Jarret Stoll had been called for a delayed minor penalty for boarding Stephen Gionta at center-ice on the dump-in that Scuderi played, Bernier still would have been assessed his major for slamming into the L.A. defenseman even if the whistle had blown once the puck was played.
Bernier’s was a textbook major, of that there should be no dispute. There was no law, however, that the Devils had to crack and yield three goals within 3:48 while a man down, but that’s the stretch in which the champions displayed their unmistakable superiority, the span in which the level playing field went tilt.