Crackdown continues

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Mike Fisher wants nothing more than to be a large part of his team's playoff run, but there is one large factor he would like to see along the way.

The Ottawa Senators forward can handle the idea that NHL referees will continue their crackdown on obstruction when the playoffs open tonight and all he asks is that it is done with regularity.

"Consistency has always been our thing," Fisher said. "Sometimes you get discrepancies, but as long as they stick to their guns and keep calling it consistently, that's all we can ask for as players."

Time and again the league has said there would be a crackdown, and time and again the peas in referees' whistles disappeared when the curtain lifted on the playoffs. But for the most part, the same penalties that were being called in the first period of games in October were being called in the third period and overtime of games in April. While some have beefs about the new NHL game, only the uninformed would argue the game has no more action than it did.

And that's the way it has to remain, whether, director of officiating Stephen Walkom said, the infraction is made in Game 1 or in overtime of Game 7.

"We can't say they will catch everything, but it will not be for lack of trying," Walkom said. "Our guys aren't naive. They know this is a big change for them and they all realize big work is ahead. But I think people should expect to see what they have been seeing all season."

Gone, Walkom said, are the days when some referees may have had a reputation for putting the whistle in their pocket.

"These are the rules and an official shouldn't have his own style," Walkom said.

Records kept by the NHL show that in the previous three seasons, there has been a drop in the average of penalty minutes a game from the regular season to the playoffs, but the decrease has not been as much as one might think. In 2003-04, the average went to 28.1 minutes a game from 29.8; in 2002-03, it went to 24.9 from 29.1; and in 2001-02, it declined to 26.5 from 30.4.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman warned this week that referees who don't toe the line will be wind up watching the playoffs. But in a sense, the onus has been taken off the referees because there is no grey area.

"It's almost as if the league has taken the burden off the shoulders of the official and said, 'Hey, if we can see a pass interference call in football with game on the line, how can we not see a penalty call?' " TV analyst Nick Kypreos said.

"Free throws win games in basketball in the playoffs. Get used to a power-play goal making the difference in whether a team advances or goes home early. That's a fact."

And a good one.

"You can't hold back on it now," TV analyst Gary Green said. "And there is no reason to."


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