And right on cue the vocal barbs begin.
It is a time honored tradition in the NHL-- every playoff game will see a minimum of nineteen complaints about the officiating, each of these accusations questioning the validity of when and why a specific call was made; a deliberate song and dance employed by coaching staffs in order to gain every possible advantage throughout the course of a series.
If a referee has to think twice before blowing his whistle at a crucial moment in the game the efforts of these public lobbyists have been successful.
The aforementioned quote by Mike Babcock is in response to Devin Setoguchi's theatrics after being hit with a high stick during a Sharks power play at the beginning of the third period. The call resulted in a 5 on 3 man advantage, and was one that San Jose quickly capitalized on as Joe Pavelski beat Jimmy Howard five hole to extend the lead to 4-2.
That goal eventually proved to be the game winner.
As we have mentioned before, Mike Babcock is a master of the media game. An extremely well-versed coach in various realms, from on-ice matchups to off-ice extracurriculars, Babcock does not usually engage in the hyperbolic chest beating that we are quite familiar with. And looking at the replay, it's hard to say he doesn't have a marginal point.
Setoguchi was definitely hit with an errant stick, and Babcock admitted as much by stating that it was a penalty. However, the assertion that Setoguchi may have embellished the call is rooted in reason-- he fell to the ice after being hit and lay prone for nearly ten seconds before collecting himself, eventually skating off the ice under his own power.
The source of Babcock's frustration with the matter likely stems from the initial infraction that began the penalty box parade for Detroit. A minute before the Sharks were granted a two man advantage Devin Setoguchi was involved in a neutral zone collision with Johan Franzen. The officials called a tripping penalty on the Detroit forward, while replays showed that Setoguchi's stick had initially made contact with Franzen's face before the trip occurred. Only following that contact did Setoguchi lose his balance and tip over backwards.
It was a six minute swing for San Jose, as Franzen received an open gash on his cheek that would have resulted in a double minor penalty.
The moral of the story here is that Babcock has already planted a seed in the officials' minds about missed calls and San Jose embellishment. The NHL does not schedule referees for two games in a row, which reduces the likelihood of a direct carry over into Sunday night, but communication amongst the group is definitely prevalent. Babcock's comments ensure Setoguchi will be at least a cursory footnote when they review the game tape.
Calls even out over the course of the series. This is the main reason you will never see myself or my fellow writers complain about officiating for an extended period of time in our articles. For every missed or blown call against San Jose there are at least five examples you can find where the players themselves missed shots or blew their own assignments.
Whether or not Setoguchi "dove" or "played it up" is irrelevant at this point. He doesn't have a reputation as a diver throughout the league, and I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the penalty Babcock is referencing. When a stick rides up high you protect yourself and make sure everything is in it's right place before moving from your current position. Even if the optics don't look especially convinching.
Another interesting twist to this comment is the inclusion of Canada in his dialogue, as Babcock references Setoguchi's nationality as a reason as to why he shouldn't be diving. Babcock was the national coach for Team Canada and obviously has ties to the rugged style that area of the globe is known for. But with a team filled predominantly with players from northeastern Europe, perhaps the statement, "You're a hockey player, don't do that crap" would have been more appropriate.
In a highly magnified and competitive series such as this, every advantage counts. San Jose got their advantages last night and capitalized on them. Detroit did not.
And at this stage of the season, that is all that matters.