- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Since they were eliminated from the playoffs by Tampa Bay on Easter Sunday, the Washington Capitals have maintained that three calls by on-ice officials made more of a difference in the series than the coaches, goaltenders and skaters.

Normally, this could be written off as a routine case of poor losers crying foul. But the Caps may have an ally in their complaints of lousy officiating — the NHL itself.

Two veteran referees, Dave Jackson and Dennis LaRue, appear to have been disciplined as a result of the calls the Caps complained about, and neither advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Officiating in postseason is a reward for work done during the regular season and results in financial bonuses that increase as an official goes deeper into the playoffs. No assignments mean no bonuses.

A league source said yesterday one of the botched calls might cost one of the involved officials his job, but that could not be confirmed.

Efforts yesterday to reach Andy Van Hellemond, the league’s director of officiating, were unsuccessful. A league spokesman in New York offered no comment. No Washington official contacted yesterday would comment on the record.

The calls in question came early in overtime of Game3, won by Tampa Bay 4-3 on a power play with a two-man advantage, and 14 minutes into the first period of Game5, when a double minor for high-sticking was assessed against Washington goalie Olie Kolzig, resulting in a Tampa Bay goal in a game the Lightning won 2-1.

Another disputed call occurred early in the third overtime of Game6, won by the Lightning on another power play. The Caps did not deny the infraction but said the wrong penalty was assessed under the circumstances.

In the playoffs, the rules change; referees usually bend over backward to let the players decide the game, not officials. Routine infractions that bring penalties during the regular season are ignored; usually only calls that prevent a player from following through on a legitimate scoring chance or infractions that result in injuries are whistled. Infractions in overtime are almost never called.

The calls the Caps feel turned and possibly decided the series are as follows:

One minute, 18 seconds into overtime of Game3, Washington’s Jaromir Jagr and Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina were involved in a scrum along the boards in a continuation of an earlier incident. Jagr could be seen landing an overhand left and LaRue called him for roughing, a highly unusual call considering the circumstances. Less than a minute later, LaRue called Caps defenseman Ken Klee for elbowing, the correct call but one usually overlooked during postseason, especially in overtime. It was only the second time in NHL playoff history a team had been at a 5-3 disadvantage in overtime. Seventeen seconds after the Klee call, Tampa Bay scored and won the game 4-3. Had Washington won, it would have had a 3-0 advantage in games and a stranglehold on the series.

At 11:13 of the first period in Game5, with the series tied 2-2, Kolzig left his crease to play a loose puck. He had turned his back to the action as he cradled the puck in his stick and swung to send the puck around the boards. Unknown to Kolzig, Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier was coming from behind him to try to play the puck. The follow through from Kolzig’s stick caught the center in the face, and he fell to the ice, bleeding slightly. Kolzig was hit with a double minor for high-sticking by Jackson, even though the rule book clearly addresses that situation and says it is not a penalty. Tampa Bay scored on the second of the two penalties and won the game 2-1.

The third call came 3:45 into the third overtime of Game6. The Caps were caught with too many men on the ice when one player exited the bench too soon and was struck with the puck before the man he was replacing made it to the bench. The Caps were hit with a minor penalty instead of being called for an illegal substitution, which carries no penalty. Who made the initial call is unclear. Tampa Bay scored in 18 seconds, winning the game and series.

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