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The score of a game can be an official's best friend or worst enemy in the third period. In a game that is still up for grabs, especially in the playoffs, players just play hockey and try to win the game. When a game is out of reach in the third period, there's a much higher risk of seeing a lot of nonsense.
When I was a young referee and would question the enforcement of certain rules that I felt were questionable or ill-advised, the late John McCauley would respond by asking me what I thought the purpose was behind the rule. What does this rule hope to accomplish?
The same thing goes for playing the game: What is the player hoping to gain by his actions? How will it help his team? If all he's doing is showing frustration, it's something counterproductive that he shouldn't be doing.
In Game Five of the Rangers-Canadiens series, the Rangers were down by two goals midway through the third period when John Moore doled out the high blindside hit on Dale Weise that resulted in Moore being suspended for two games. Now, in some games, a two-goal deficit in the third period is a mighty steep hill. Not in this game. Not with the way the two teams kept scoring goals in bunches and how no lead was safe. The Rangers had already stormed back from a 4-1 deficit earlier in the game to tie the score. They still had a chance.
What Moore did was to ensure his own team had no chance to win the game (and close out the series with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals at stake). For what? What was Moore hoping to accomplish in the first place?
The purpose of a body check is to separate a player from the puck, not to separate his head from his shoulders. Did Moore think he was going to intimidate Montreal, any more than Brandon Prust's equally stupid hit on Derek Stepan intimidated the Rangers? Was he trying to pay Weise back for something, and picked the worst imaginable time to do it?
More likely, he wasn't thinking at all. It was sheer idiocy. It was also a coaching failure by Alain Vigneault.
As for the late-game garbage we saw near the end of Game Five, lowlighted by Derek Dorsett headbutting Mike Weaver and by Rene Bourque cross-checking Dorsett at the end of the game, anyone could see it coming. That "sending a message" stuff -- which originated outside hockey and then polluted our game -- is a pile of garbage but it still goes on even among professionals who ought to understand how useless it actually is.
Listen, I fought a lot when I played. Being an enforcer was my job and I racked up a lot of penalty minutes. But when our team was way behind late in the game and I got a shift, I never went out looking to injure or stick opposing players to "send a message" for the next game. That would have been pointless and a poor reflection on myself and my team.
As a referee, I always knew when a lopsided game in the third period was in danger of getting out of hand. I knew which coaches tacitly encouraged it. I knew who the likely troublemakers would be on the two teams (and it was usually NOT the fighters that started it but rather the stickwork guys and other cheapshot artists) and made it clear that I wouldn't put up with it on my watch. The teams' benches, captains and the players themselves knew I was serious.
Want to send a message in the third period of a playoff game your team has clearly lost? Be a professional. Play to the final buzzer then regroup and get ready for the next game. Always keep in mind that the next game of a playoff series is more important than the ones that are already decided and remember there's something bigger and better to be gained by playing the right way.
Part of what the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s so formidable is that, apart from all of the skill up and down the lineup, they had players who could throw some devastating hits. Larry Robinson was a tank who could also fight well. Big players like Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe could also put a hurting on someone with a check if the situation called for.
But these guys were smart players who understood the importance of time, place and score. Too many of today's young players go out and play brainless hockey in the name of sending a message. Coaches don't teach them otherwise. Parents coddle them. Agents pamper them. Team management follows suit. It's sad.
Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.