By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
The Islanders have no choice but to stay out of the penalty box if they entertain any thoughts of winning this series.
The problem with that logical thinking is, they may not have a choice in the matter.
Drawing penalties is a debatable art, but what Sidney Crosby does, or better yet what the NHL allows him to do, in my opinion completely takes away from what the rules state, guidelines that supposedly have been revamped in a concerted effort to cut down on unsportsmanlike play.
I’m sorry everybody, but when Crosby, a player who is lauded day in and day out for his exceptional skating with and without the puck, balance with and without the puck and agility, again, with and without the puck, throws his legs out from underneath him, which is what he did early in overtime on Sunday at Nassau Coliseum, the sanctity of what the playoffs are supposed to be about gets thrown right out the window. The face of the league proved once again he’s unsportsmanlike, regardless of all the love and affection he gets.
There’s no honor in what Crosby did on Sunday. People in Pittsburgh can bestow overwhelming praise on their star for his headiness, offensive awareness or game situation intelligence all they want, but the rest of the hockey world knows all too well what Crosby is all about.
Among fans, he’s the most hated guy in the game, and I guarantee you it’s not because he’s the league’s most skilled player, or because he piles up points seemingly at will against your favorite clubs.
It’s because he’s a diver and at times a whiner on the ice, a diva in black who rarely, if ever, gets punished for embellishing, and yet gets a ridiculous amount of calls, usually precisely when his team needs them.
Why the NHL continues to allow his histrionics is beyond me. You can’t tell me there wasn’t someone in the Toronto headquarters who watched Crosby’s flop and didn’t wince, didn’t for at least a second anyway feel ashamed that this guy is allowed to get away with all the shenanigans he pulls on a consistent basis.
All I know is I watched the Islanders and Penguins wage war for 60-plus minutes on Sunday in a beautifully played game that went back and forth on the momentum and emotion scales, only to have the game ultimately be decided by an actor. So whatever you thought was reality was really fiction, all orchestrated by the one guy the NHL allows to run rampant, probably because he’s the face of the league.
So what does that say about the NHL? Not a whole hell of a lot.
I’m not going to lie. I toyed with the focus of this column for some time following Sunday’s farce off the Hempstead Turnpike because I was sure it would force people to take sides even more than they are accustomed and that opinions of truth versus justice would come at a price of insults and derogatory comments. Usually, I’m too old for that crap.
But not today. I’m compelled to speak what I believe to be the truth.
It’s obvious that crying about officiating will get you nowhere and 99 times out 100 I will turn the other cheek when it comes to a brutal call, because there are usually a bunch of factors that play into any one team losing or winning any one game. But it’s hard to look at that call on Brian Strait and find a reason for debate, because it was at best ticky-tacky even before Crosby seemingly got shot. Without the embellishment it’s a call you don’t make in overtime in the playoffs, not with so much riding on outcomes. Anyone with a brain who has watched the game knows when it comes to sudden death referees put their whistles away until they have no choice but to make a call that must be made, or else risk losing whatever credibility they had.
Crosby then doing what he did only destroys credibility if you make the call, not if you let it slide. They’d never admit it, but you have to figure there are thousands of Penguins fans snickering right now, knowing they got a gift. The 16,000-plus in attendance on Sunday saw the replay and let their opinions be known. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had rioted.
Look, at the end of the day the Islanders, despite all they did right on Sunday, did put themselves in position to have the game be decided in the fashion it was. They have been brutal on the penalty kill in this series, allowing six power-play goals in 13 chances. If that doesn’t change soon they won’t win the series. Even if it does they still might not win the series.
But you can’t say the Islanders haven’t been resilient, haven’t displayed a fierce demeanor that commands respect of referees. They fought back from a two-goal third-period hole on Sunday against pretty insurmountable odds, and, ultimately, were the better team overall, except on the scoreboard.
Most everyone thought the series was over after the Islanders’ non-competitive showing in the 5-0 loss in Game 1. But they were clearly the better team in Game 2, the first eight or so minutes not withstanding, and earned every bit of their 4-3 victory. And then, riding the overwhelming emotion of the first home playoff game at the coliseum in six years, put forth an inspired performance in Game 3.
This is in no way a 1-8 matchup. Ever since the start of Game 2 it’s been a battle between two fairly evenly matched teams, which screams more to the Islanders being better than what their regular season record suggests than the Penguins not being clearly head and shoulders above everyone else in the East, as many believed when the series started.
But if the officials decide to let these teams play, they have to do it all the time. It makes no sense to let them slug it out for three periods, only to tighten the leash in overtime, which is exactly what they did on Sunday. I’m not sure if Pascal Dupuis or Chris Kunitz gets that call. I know for a fact John Tavares doesn’t get it, because he’s usually molested for 60 minutes a game and, despite his Crosby-like reputation for brilliance with the puck, rarely if ever gets the big call.
But Crosby, himself? God forbid.
So, to the Islanders and their fans, it’s time for you to abandon the hockey gods. They hate you. They are in the pockets of the power brokers. If your team is going to win Game 4 and, perhaps, this series, you’re going to have to do it yourselves.
Just try not to breathe on Crosby along the way.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet.
Bad call? Good call? Let’s hear it hockey fans. Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …
You May Also Be Interested In These Stories