To prevent problems on the ice late in the game, officials have to be tougher earlier
If referees want to avoid problems such as we saw late in Thursday night's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Kings, they have to be stricter earlier in the game and a little more even-handed when making calls. Understandably, referees Dean Morton and Tim Peel did not want to get in the way of a game between two of the league's top teams, but "let the boys play" is not the right course when doing so will create an atmosphere in which players feel free to take liberties.
A couple of examples:
The refs were correct in the first period to call a five-minute boarding penalty of Tampa Bay's Mattias Ohlund. But there were plenty of offenses of a physical nature that were not called that certainly began to build a permissive atmosphere. Lightning right wing Steve Downie was a clear target, so give Downie credit for walking away from several potential confrontations. But you also can't blame Downie for steaming when Los Angeles' Drew Doughty cold-cocked him from behind and was given no more than a two-minute charging penalty.
Downie, of course, felt he had to even the score and blasted Doughty late in the third period, which set up the final confrontation, a fight between Downie and Willie Mitchell, which also was a puzzler, given how the penalties were dished out.
Downie got a fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct. Mitchell got only five for fighting. Really? Mitchell wasn't even involved in the initial confrontation, came over and cross-checked Downie from behind and then started fighting. Sounds like an instigator situation to me. Mitchell also punched Downie as the officials were breaking them apart, another breach of etiquette that should have been penalized.
It was almost comical to see Downie screaming at the ref "you saw that" after the late punch. But apparently they did not or did not care.
Look, I like a good scuffle as much as the next guy and a tough, hard-hitting game is as much fun to watch as a high-scoring one. But the final melee Thursday was one in which someone could have gotten hurt, and it happened partly because the refs were not pro-active early in setting boundaries for the players and then were not consistent in their calls.
In a big game, as that one was, they should have done better.