Special to Sports News Highlights

(SNH) — The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have been close and exciting as we continue through the second round in mid-May.

In the opening round, there was just one series sweep with the New York Rangers disposing of the Washington Capitals in four games. Otherwise, the playoffs have been close, compelling and very competitive so far.

But there is one area and discussion topic that has popped up: It’s the referees and officiating, on and off the ice.

I’ve been closely following hockey for 20 years as a broadcaster and I’m the first to say I have tremendous respect for the referees. They have an incredibly difficult job, especially with the speed of the game.

However, at the NHL level I believe it’s time to start holding the referees and off-ice officials more accountable for the calls they make, especially during the playoffs. Some of the calls they make can and do affect the outcome and direction of games.

Case and point: Game four, third period of the Eastern Conference game when the Boston Bruins had a 2-1 lead on the Florida Panthers. That’s when Sam Bennett of the Florida Panthers clearly pushed Bruins forward Charlie Coyle in the back into his teammate, goalie Jeremy Swayman, who was unable to do anything with his teammate on top of him.

Swayman had no chance to stop the shot and Bennett scored to tie the game, 2-2. That goal swung the momentum of the game, which the Panthers went on to win, 3-2, to take a 3-1 series lead.

I have no rooting interest in this series. I’m just a hardcore fan of the game and want to see the right calls made and made consistently.

This one to me, clearly was not the right call. The goal should have been overturned. No question about it. But it wasn’t.

In the NHL, video reviews are handled by “The War Room” in Toronto where off-ice officials ultimately decide the final decision on video reviews, not the on-ice referees.

Here’s where I think there should be more accountability. Make the referees or the off-ice officials available after the game to explain why they made certain calls. Some people may say it’s too much, but I don’t feel that way. In this era of sports and video review, too many times us sports fans are left watching and wondering: How did they make or not make that call?

Officials have a great influence on the games, more now than ever, and I believe they should have to explain their calls. Referees or officials might disagree and say no way.

I am friends and colleagues with dozens of hockey referees and the same is true for referees in other sports. I have no problem saying and believing they need to answer to why and how they make some of these calls.

It’s as simple as a Zoom call with the officials making the final decision after the game with a small pool of media members. Clarify why the call was made and then there is true transparency in the sport.

I’m not suggesting this for every game in the 82-game regular season, but it certainly should be done during the playoffs.

Will it happen? Probably not anytime soon, but I really believe and feel it needs to be for the credibility and respect of the game. Time will tell.

To add more to the story, Bennett was involved in a much talked about play in Game three of this chippy and intense series. The play between Bennett and Bruins’ Captain Brad Marchand came together in the neutral zone near the end of both team benches. The two players collided and Marchand went down. You could see something happened.

At first glance it didn’t seem like there was much to the play. Watching the game intently that night and preparing to do an on-air segment in the studio for SNH Television, I didn’t see from the TV angles anything illegal or dirty.

I took the time to slow down the play and it looked like maybe Bennett delivered a blow to Marchand with his right hand, but his back was to the camera, so it was tough to see. No penalty was called on the play during the game and no explanation was given after the game.

Boston, of course, felt it was a dirty play and Florida felt it was a “hockey play.”  But then TNT’s broadcasters discussed the play in depth and showed a different angle. You could see Bennett delivering a punch to the side of the head of Marchand.

To me it was a sucker punch, a play that warranted a one-game suspension. I know there are some who believe Marchand deserved it because of his reputation.

Again, I have no rooting interest in this series; I’m not a fan of either team. I just want to see the right call made in the biggest games of the NHL season. This one, to me, like the Bennett goal in Game four, should have been called and neither were.

I love the NHL and the sport of hockey, but more can and needs to be done, especially with all the technology we have for game broadcasts, to get the calls right.

Let’s get more accountability in the greatest game on earth.

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