The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been so exciting this year. However, a lot of the attention has been on the officiating and not the games themselves. Both Stanley Cup Semifinals are now the best-of-three series. Nobody expected the Montreal Canadiens to be in the series against the Vegas Golden Knights. They are putting to bed the narrative the North Division was the weakest division and the winner could not hang with teams south of the border. The New York Islanders are where everyone expected them to be fighting tooth and nail with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Either series can go any way, which makes the playoffs so exciting.
However, the narrative on the ice should really be about the games themselves and not the officiating. Granted the officiating has been sub-par, to say the least. But that has been the case for years now. However, with the dawn of social media missed calls are more magnetized. And officials are put under the microscope even more. However, that does not mean they need to be better. In fact, what fans want most are consistent calls. If it is a penalty in October it should be a penalty now, but we know that is not the case. It is a tough job, but one thing is for sure the officiating needs to be better.
New York Islanders vs Tampa Bay Lightning
The Islanders and Lightning are putting on an entertaining series. It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions since the puck dropped on Game 1. The biggest moment of the series came in Game 4 when Ryan Pulock saved the game and potentially the series for the Islanders stopping Ryan McDonagh with only seconds left in the third period. The Lightning and Islanders are mirror images of each through four games. Even though we all like high-scoring games, the old saying that defence wins championships still holds true. Both teams play a version of the neutral zone trap. The Lightning are getting slowed down through the neutral zone by the Islanders’ style of play. But in Game 3, the Lightning took the Islanders and shoved right back in their face when they hold for a 2-1 lead.
But the Islanders were able to bounce back to force one more game at the old barn that is Nassau Coliseum. Yes the officiating was questionable in the series especially in Game 3, but all the games have been close outside of two games when the Lightning showed why they are the champs for a reason. Even if the Islanders lose they are showing they can hang with the top teams in the NHL.
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Montreal Canadiens vs Vegas Golden Knights
Looking at the Canadiens and Golden Knights, the story through the first three games was the officiating and rightfully so. Things were getting out of control between the two teams. Players did not know what an actual penalty was. It was prison rules out there. However, that all changed when Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer decided to flip the series on its head. Marc-Andre Fleury had started every game except one heading into Game 4 against Montreal. But Fleury was benched in favour of Robin Lehner, who was making his first start since Game 1 of the second round against Colorado. The focus of the series was shifted away from the poor officiating to the decision to start Lehner over Fleury.
Again the focus was back on the ice and the players fighting for a shot to make the Stanley Cup Final, not the officials making poor calls which led to fans thinking the NHL wanted one team to win over the other. But after a brilliant performance in Game 4, where Lehner got the Golden Knights the victory, DeBoer went back to Fleury in Game 5. This time the decision did not work out for the Golden Knights. Montreal won Game 5 and now are one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final. The Canadiens are proving that the North Division is not the weakest division and they can play with any team in the league.
Montreal was built for this time of year. And even though Marc Bergevin did not win general manager of the year, he constructed this team to play in the playoffs. Everyone is contributing. Now we can all go back and talk about whether it was a poor decision not to start Cole Caufield in the first two games of the Toronto series.
Enjoy the Moment
With the Stanley Cup Semifinals winding down, the fact that both series are heading to a Game 6 and potentially a Game 7 is all you can ask for. Most people didn’t think these series would make it this far. However, the hockey has been excellent every night and we will miss it once the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are over.
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