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Sorry Kris Knoblauch, NHL playoff officiating isn’t going to change just for your team

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
25 days ago
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Well, well, well, how the turntables.
The Edmonton Oilers have fallen victim to the fickle thing that is officiating in the NHL playoffs. It’s not exactly a secret that the refs call the game differently between the regular season and the postseason, with certain things let go that wouldn’t usually fly. The only thing consistent is the inconsistency, and while Canucks fans were more than used to seeing it firsthand, the Oilers probably weren’t. And now, with a deadly power play that was silenced in their last 13 opportunities dating from the second round, the frustration in Edmonton is boiling. A key point of success for them throughout the season has been the power play — but now, the opportunities are becoming fewer.
“The standard gets changed a little bit,” Knoblauch said after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final. “[The NHL] would definitely want to make sure it’s a penalty when in the regular season, maybe some things get let go. That’s obviously unfortunate for us. We’ve got a very good power play, and we win a lot of games on the power play.
“It’s unfortunate for us that it’s tougher to draw penalties in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. That being said, I think the standard is the same for both teams. I’m not saying it’s unfair for us, but we would like the same standard.”
Make no mistake, the Oilers have more than valid complaints about the officiating in the Conference Finals. Some fairly obvious infractions have gone uncalled, and it’s led to some key changes in momentum, especially in Game 2. It’s frustrating to watch, and while it’s understandable that officiating is hard because the pace of the game is so fast, the fact that discipline isn’t carried out evenly from the regular season to the playoffs could get on anyone’s nerves.
But isn’t complaining about officiating something only Canucks fans do? Doesn’t it represent a culture of institutionalized surrender? In hockey, they say that if you arrive at the rink already wondering about the officiating, you are halfway to being beaten. Or so I’ve heard.
Yeah, about that.
During the 2024 NHL playoffs, only one team has had more power play opportunities than the Edmonton Oilers (43) — the Florida Panthers, in case anyone was wondering — and the rest of the Conference Final teams have had equal or fewer power play chances than the Oilers. This might seem like a simple case of Edmonton making it further, playing more games thus resulting in more power plays. But consider this: Dallas has had 37 power plays in 14 games thus far. Vancouver had 36 in 13. Even Boston recorded 33 power plays in their 13 games in the playoffs, resulting in a pretty big gap between Edmonton’s power plays per game versus teams that have played a similar amount of games in the postseason.
Simply put, the Western Conference Finals are the first time in this postseason run that the Oilers have felt how the playoffs have been called for the rest of the league. In the Vancouver series, there were plenty of 50/50 calls that fell in Edmonton’s favour, and a couple of missed penalties going in either team’s direction. It’s natural to complain about things like that, especially when it’s not in favour of your team — but that doesn’t mean that it’s a culture of institutionalized surrender. Or that waving a white towel is a sign of giving up.
Ironically, it was off the back of Roger Neilson’s towel-raising and Canuck fans waving towels that the 1982 Canucks made the Stanley Cup Final. If anything, towel power in Vancouver symbolizes the way that this city and its fans carry forth a tradition from its first run to the Stanley Cup Final. Not a “celebration of surrender”, or a sign that a team quits before the first puck drop.
Again, none of this is to say that Edmonton doesn’t have a valid gripe about officiating. It’s been glaringly obvious this postseason and another example in the sample size of how NHL reffing needs some accountability and clarity in the playoffs. But this isn’t just the “tinfoil-hat brigade” speaking, or one-sided whining “night after night, after whiney, complaining night.” Complaining about the referees isn’t a sign of a losing tradition, nor is it limited to just the Vancouver Canucks fanbase. It’s something that all fanbases share, because that’s just how it goes.
Maybe it’s because Edmonton hasn’t been in the postseason this consistently since the late ’90s. Maybe it’s because many current Oilers fans grew up during the ten consecutive playoff-less seasons between 2006 and 2017. Maybe it’s because finally, there’s a larger sample size than just one Western Conference Final run in 2021-22, where they got swept by the machine known as the Colorado Avalanche. Maybe it’s because fans are finally seeing what many other fanbases have already known for a long time.
Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, baby.
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