PENAL­TIES AND POWER PLAY GOALS HAV­ING IM­PACT EARLY ON IN SEV­ERAL PLAY­OFF SE­RIES

Ref­er­ees ‘call­ing it as they see it’ and teams tak­ing ad­van­tage, Stephen Whyno writes.

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Play­ers take note: Ref­er­ees aren’t swal­low­ing their whis­tles so far in the 2018 NHL play­offs.

Penal­ties are up more than 17 per cent over the same time a year ago and are play­ing a sub­stan­tial role in sev­eral se­ries. Through 19 games in the first round, there have been nearly 10 penal­ties per game. Last year, there was an av­er­age of eight penal­ties called through 20 games.

“The penal­ties that have been called in the se­ries so far is an in­di­ca­tion of how the ref­er­ees are call­ing the game,” Pitts­burgh coach Mike Sul­li­van said Mon­day. “They’re call­ing it as they see it. I think dis­ci­pline is of the ut­most im­por­tance.”

While the two-time de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup champions haven’t been per­fect in that re­gard against Philadel­phia, they haven’t been de­railed by a lack of dis­ci­pline. Around the rest of the NHL, penal­ties and the en­su­ing power play goals are mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence: There have been 38 power play goals through Sun­day’s games com­pared with just 21 in 2017.

The NHL wants of­fi­cials to call play­offs at the same stan­dard as the reg­u­lar sea­son, which is hap­pen­ing with penal­ties go­ing up from the first pe­riod through the third. Each of the 10 pair­ings of ref­er­ees work­ing the play­offs has at least one who has worked the Cup fi­nal, so the hope is hav­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence helps main­tain con­sis­tency.

The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals blew two-goal leads in back-to-back over­time losses on home ice to Colum­bus be­cause of ill-ad­vised penal­ties and go into Game 3 on the road on Tues­day know­ing it’s a prob­lem that needs im­me­di­ate fix­ing.

“We need to be a lit­tle smarter,” cen­tre Nick­las Back­strom said. “We need to play with bet­ter dis­ci­pline — es­pe­cially when we have the lead twice ... It’s ob­vi­ously go­ing to hurt you in the play­offs. That’s the way it is. It’s just fact.”

Nine of the 14 reg­u­la­tion goals in the Wash­ing­ton-Colum­bus se­ries have come on the power play. The Blue Jack­ets, who surged into the play­offs by not tak­ing a lot of penal­ties to tax one of the worst spe­cial teams units in the league, lead the play­offs in penalty min­utes per game.

Coach John Tor­torella said the Blue Jack­ets “have to cure that” be­cause it’s too dan­ger­ous to keep tak­ing so many penal­ties. His play­ers know it — even if they’re un­sure of the stan­dard.

“We need to stay out of the box, but you never know what’s a call and what’s not any­more,” for­ward Cam Atkin­son said. “But that’s the game right now.”

In the West, where Win­nipeg leads Min­ne­sota 2-1, the teams re­al­ize how tight things are be­ing called.

The Wild took five penal­ties in the first 31 min­utes Sun­day night and stymied the Jets’ power play in a 6-2 come­back win. The teams com­bined for 19 penal­ties — in­clud­ing some fights and mis­con­ducts — in the sec­ond game of their se­ries.

“We’ve just got to watch tak­ing penal­ties,” Min­ne­sota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Both teams were re­ally emo­tional at the be­gin­ning and you’ve got to worry about tak­ing penal­ties and get­ting be­hind the eight ball.”

It’s chippy be­tween the Golden Knights and Kings, too, with Ve­gas up 3-0 go­ing into Game 4 on Tues­day in Los An­ge­les. All three games so far have been de­cided by a goal, L.A. de­fence­man Drew Doughty was sus­pended for an il­le­gal check to the head of Wil­liam Car­rier and Kings coach John Stevens is none too happy about a missed call on Ve­gas for­ward Erik Haula for hit­ting Anze Ko­pi­tar in the face with the butt end of his stick Sun­day night.

“We get a guy sus­pended for mak­ing a hockey play, and he butt-ends one of the best play­ers in the world in the face,” Stevens said. “That’s an in­tent-to-in­jure play.”

Los An­ge­les is the most re­cent team to come back from a 3-0 se­ries deficit, do­ing so in 2014 against the San Jose Sharks on the way to win­ning the Stan­ley Cup.

Stevens, who was an as­sis­tant four years ago, said his team has “had some re­silience all year,” and the tight­ness of the games against Ve­gas com­bined with the ex­cel­lence of goal­tender Jonathan Quick cer­tainly makes a turn­around pos­si­ble.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

■ The Cap­i­tals won’t have for­ward An­dre Bu­rakovsky for at least Games 3 and 4 in Colum­bus be­cause of an up­per-body in­jury. Coach Barry Trotz said Bu­rakovsky is go­ing to “miss some time” af­ter be­ing crunched into the boards by Boone Jen­ner in Game 2. Speedy winger Jakub Vrana, a sur­prise scratch for Wash­ing­ton on Sun­day, goes back in for Bu­rakovsky.

■ Trotz said he has de­cided who will start in goal for the Cap­i­tals in Game 3 but hadn’t yet told Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Af­ter Grubauer al­lowed eight goals on 49 shots be­fore be­ing yanked at the sec­ond in­ter­mis­sion of Game 2, the smart money is on Holtby, the 2016 Vez­ina Tro­phy win­ner.

■ Li­nes­man Steve Bar­ton, who was in­jured when he in­ad­ver­tently clipped skates with Blue Jack­ets for­ward Josh Anderson and had to be helped off the ice by train­ers, dis­lo­cated his kneecap and tore a quadri­ceps mus­cle in his left leg. Bar­ton will re­quire surgery but didn’t tear lig­a­ments in his knee, which doc­tors said is good news be­cause they ex­pect him to make a full re­cov­ery.

Both teams were re­ally emo­tional at the be­gin­ning and you’ve got to worry about tak­ing penal­ties and get­ting be­hind the eight ball.

JOHN WOODS/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Win­nipeg Jets head coach Paul Mau­rice yells at an of­fi­cial dur­ing an NHL play­off game against the Min­ne­sota Wild. Penal­ties are up more than 17 per cent over the same time a year ago, with teams scor­ing 38 power play goals through Sun­day’s games.

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