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Full Disclosure: It is probably safe to say my rooting interests lay with the Blackhawks in this series. Not that I had anything in particular against Detroit, other than I simply didn't predict them to win the series.
Just about everything that is wrong with the state of NHL officiating was on display in the incident the final two minutes of the third period of last nights game seven between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. And this one cost Chicago what should have been the game winning goal when Niklas Kjarlmarsson appeared to score with 1:49 to play in the third.
The goal was waived off because of a neutral zone whistle blown by Stephen Walkom, the very same Walkom that was among the four officials that saw this hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa but judged that no call was needed.
If you want to skip the goal that never was, the first replay of penalty starts at about :40 in the video below.
Walkom is in the lower left corner and from :45 on the video until :53 seconds on the video his arm is at his side as he approaches the scrum. I must assume he had no intention of calling the Red Wings Kyle Quincey for dragging Saad to the ground. In my opinion this should constitute interference, but this is the playoffs, we have all seen far worse let go. It appeared Walkom was going to look the other way here, again arm is still at his side.
In the video, you don't see any action on Saad's part that would remotely justify a penalty until he gives a shot to Quincey's face at about 1:38. Shortly after that you see Walkom approach the pile, arms still at his side, but then he blows the whistle.
Now I'm not saying Walkom set out to wipe a goal off the board here. Once he blows the whistle, that's the end of it I get that. My problem is with how horrible his decision making process is as demonstrated through his (lack of) signaling.
With Walkom's arm down the whole time until he whistles, it signals that he had no intention of calling anything until Saad provided, in Walkom's mind, an excuse to "even it up." Comparing the two offenses that were actually called it seems to me, if Walkom wasn't willing to make a call on Quincey on its own merit, he has ABSOLUTELY NO BUISNESS making a call against Saad either. Play should have continued.
As a reminder, if Walkom did signal the call against Quincey play would've continued with Chicago in possession, unless Saad or another Blackhawk took a penalty. If Walkom signals the moment he sees it, in my opinion that at least mitigates how horrifying this situation is, because we at least know a whistle is coming. That signal might even prevent Saad from retaliating, even as minimal as his retaliation actually was. At the very least a signal means a whistle is coming.
But as fans we must assume no signal means no intent to make the call in the first place. Walkom deciding to make a call after your arm has been down for what is an eternity in hockey-time until deciding he found an even-up situation is dishonest.
It's easy to pick on Walkom, I certainly feel like I'm piling on. Howver, being afraid of power plays in late-game situations is something that has been terribly wrong with the culture of NHL officiating for some time now. Calls should be calls whether or not the official believes there is a reason to even it up. The fact that he waited for a small retaliation from Saad speaks volumes to Walkom's lack of courage in this example. But I think this lack of courage is sadly acceptable among the NHL referee bretheren.
Given what we observed from Walkom's decision process in last night's game and applying it back to the Hossa-Torres example, I wonder if from the stretcher Hossa somehow mustered the ability to scratch Torres' nose in retaliation, maybe then Walkom would've called matching minors.