Most figured it was only a matter of time before the 'Seventh Man' would have an impact on the Flames' home-ice fate.
But no one thought it would be a referee.
Two refs, actually.
If ever there was an argument against the two-referee system it was highlighted last night when Kerry Fraser and Brad Watson essentially handed the Tampa Bay Lightning Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
Might've handed 'em the Cup, too.
It only took two minutes for the duo to make their mark on the evening when Fraser whistled Mike Commodore for an obvious holding call in front of the Flames net. Good call.
However, the knockout punch came seconds later when Chris Clark made contact with Nolan Pratt 100-ft. away just after the whistle blew. Clark was immediately nailed for cross-checking despite the fact Pratt retaliated seconds later.
When told the Flames had two penalties on the play, Cory Stillman's face lit up like a Christmas tree as he rushed to corral his players towards the bench to prepare for the 5-on-3 onslaught.
One minute later, Brad Richards hammered home the game's only goal from the top of the circle. Game over.
Given the fact the teams have combined to win 23 of the 26 games in which they scored first this spring, the end result quickly became obvious.
Suddenly, 'Safe wasn't Death' as the visitors resorted to the same trapping and puck-flipping antics that drew the ire of frustrated Lightning players in Game 3.
The Lightning packed up for the trip home with a 1-0 win to become the fourth team in these playoffs to knot a series 2-2 with the Flames.
"It doesn't do us any good to comment on the refereeing," said a careful Jarome Iginla, who finished the game yelling at Fraser from the bench.
"It was pretty tough out there, to see some of those things."
Clark made no excuses for his part in the deadly exchange, which should have seen coincidental minors handed out to him and Pratt, if anything.
"I was a little surprised but if the stick came up it's a penalty -- I deserved it," said Clark, ever the diplomat.
"(A retaliatory penalty) could have been (called) but (the officials) might have missed it. It did cost us eventually but it was so early in the game."
The simple truth is no matter what time of the game it is, handing a team a two-man disadvantage for petty crime should be a punishable offence itself. Especially given the nature of Clark's routine jostling with Pratt, which goes uncalled nine times out of 10 in these playoffs. To single out a player for contact like that is one thing but to do it after whistling his teammate seconds earlier is something few teams can rebound from.
And something few refs would stoop to calling.
Well aware of the severe error in judgment, the stripes tried to even it up six minutes later by calling a ridiculous tripping penalty on Vincent Lecavalier behind the play in which Martin Gelinas simply stepped on the centreman's stick.
While the Flames were unable to mount any sustainable pressure in the second or third periods, the referees dropped the ball once more with 10 minutes left as Pratt was let off the hook again when he hauled Craig Conroy down as he crossed the blueline.
So blatant was the hook, Pratt waved his glove desperately towards Fraser to suggest it was a dive.
Fraser allowed the play to carry on, prompting a shower of orange pop, beer, coke and various other projectiles to rain down on the ref as he left the ice to chants, 'Fraser Sucks.'
Yes, there were moments it appeared the Flames got away with a hook or a hold, too, but the decision to eject Ville Nieminen for his dangerous hit from behind on Lecavalier was the right one despite furious protests from Flames upset the centre could skate to the bench.
"What is a penalty in the second shift is not a penalty in the first shift," said Darryl Sutter, stumbling through a convoluted protest of the calls.
"A penalty in the second shift, not a penalty in the third period. Whatever. It was a hell of a game."
Marred by a hell of a mistake.
ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
, Last Updated: 12:11 PM ET