Remember Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals? The Kings won 2-0 behind a stellar Jonathan Quick performance, but the Sharks served notice that they would not go down quietly by dominating the third period. Jarret Stoll was knocked out by a Raffi Torres headshot, for which he was suspended the remainder of the series. It was an ugly moment, but one that the NHL did their best to keep from escalating. The suspension should have allowed the focus to remain squarely on hockey, without distractions.
So why, a week later, is no one talking about hockey?!
Let's start with an issue that the teams have danced around pretty well.
A long-held adage of officiating in sports is: If you do your job well, no one notices you. It's a bit of a cliche, but the officials during this series are probably begging to get out of the limelight for a while. Interestingly, the referees in Game 2 and Game 3 got noticed for making calls that, though controversial, were not egregiously wrong; unfortunately, their calls came in the final three minutes and likely changed the outcome of both games.
Todd McLellan didn't take the bait after Marc-Edouard Vlasic went to the box for delay of game, putting the Sharks on a 5-on-3 that the Kings capitalized on for their tying and (5-on-4) winning goals. From NBC Sports:
You go back and look at it, it looks like it changed direction. The one thing that I’ve learned, certainly through this playoffs, is it’s not going to do me any good to whine and moan and bitch about the referees... We took some penalties, we needed to kill them, and we move on.
Passive-aggressive talk from someone who was still disgruntled? Sure! But he correctly emphasized that the Sharks needed to kill the penalties and didn't. Sutter was similarly dismissive after Game 3. LA Kings Insider:
Not happy taking that many penalties. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the calls or not. It doesn’t really have any impact on anything.
On an allegation that the refs decided the game:
I don’t put a whole lot into that.
Again, despite players on both sides arguing penalties during and after, and despite the coaches subtly disputing the calls, the message was consistent: screw the refereeing, play better.
Then, Game Four. The worst mistake of the series so far when Dustin Penner's goal was whistled dead. And yet, Sutter had this to say...
Well, I’m sure it’s in the rule book. When the whistle goes, right? So what are they going to come and tell us? They’re going to come and say they lost sight of the puck and they blew the whistle.
Nothing we can do about it. So seems pretty clear that the focus should be on hockey. Got that, players?
Oh, dear. Guess not. In case you missed it, the Sharks and the Kings have suddenly engaged in a war of words.
From Mercury News, here's Logan Couture on Dustin Brown:
He saw me. I wasn’t looking and he saw me and hit me. And then he dove after the hit to make it look like he ran into me. That’s the way he plays.
Oh, and also from Mercury News, T.J. Galiardi on Jonathan Quick:
What kind of bugs me about him, I don’t know if I should say it, but a little embellishment every now and then. You skate by and you don’t even touch him or you barely even touch him and he’s throwing his hands in the air.
Galiardi has been accused of diving himself, depending on who you listen to. (More on that in a bit.) He followed that up with the following phrases:
So that’s one of those things.
Everyone’s trying to draw a penalty.
Ball don't lie.
Points for being unique.
I’m not going to get into that.
Guys are trying to give their team any advantage they can.
If he wants to throw the hands in the air, whatever.
It's a clinic on being passive-aggressive! He even beat out Dustin Penner's "It’s pretty impressive when you have enough gall..." quote towards the refs post-game 3.
Anyway, Quick's teammates didn't take too kindly to that, as Lisa Dillman reported. Dustin Brown (yes, Sharks fans, we know he's not really one to talk) dismissed the embellishment, but saw some irony.
I don’t think there is a whole lot of embellishing going on, on either side. Considering all of the talk of embellishment in the last series, you’d think it’d be enough talking about that.
First Kevin Bieksa accuses the Sharks, then Couture and Galiardi call out the Kings. If the Kings are fortunate enough to advance, maybe they can scold the Wings or the Hawks and keep the ugly cycle going. But Drew Doughty decided to fire back immediately:
It’s not even playoff talk. It’s just funny to even hear that from a guy who is the biggest diver on their team. Like it’s just ridiculous he can even say that, to be honest.
But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.
Stop there, Drew!
I don’t think you have to watch many [Sharks’ games]. You can just watch three of his shifts and you’ll see how many times he dives. There’s been times where even the refs are telling him, just get up, because he’s diving so often.
Oof. So much for keeping it on the ice.
Advice for the Kings: let the fans and Twitter complain and insult each other (lord knows we do). If the Sharks get caught up in it, even better. A key factor of the Kings' run in 2012 was getting other teams irritated and off their game, without resorting to similar tactics. But LA hasn't played so well this time around; focusing too much attention on T.J. Galiardi isn't doing anyone any good.
Hopefully, the remaining 2-3 games of the Western Conference Semis give everyone a chance to ignore the officiating, ignore the diving, and enjoy a dramatic conclusion to this second round series.