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Garage-league referees clean up act,

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  • Garage-league referees clean up act,


    By Bernie Miklasz
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    Suddenly the puck was on Mike Sillinger's stick, a gift from hard-working teammate Dallas Drake. Sillinger dashed in alone on San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov on a breakaway. It was an important moment in the first-round playoffs series. And it was the kind of thrilling showdown between the shooter and the goalie that makes the NHL so exciting.

    If Sillinger scored, he would give the Blues new life. If he failed, the choke-hold on the Blues' strangled offense would tighten. Sillinger was by himself, eyeing Nabokov. And it all happened so quickly. Blues fans, squirming in their Savvis Center seats, barely had time to hold their breath in anticipation.

    Given the meddlesome, incompetent, Garage-League officiating in Game 2 of the series, you half expected one of the referees to intervene again, and ruin the excitement. Or perhaps one of the officials working Monday's game would blow a whistle to stop the breakaway for no reason other than having the authority to do so. Maybe one of them would tackle Sillinger before he could shoot. Or perhaps a penalty would be called on Sillinger if Sillinger skated in too deep, and got within several feet of Nabokov.

    Who knows what the NHL rules are today? With NHL officials, the standards change from game to game, shift to shift, mood to mood. The rules exist to be misinterpreted, or applied on a whim. And commissioner Gary Bettman, the small suit who runs this league, watches these debacles and does nothing as the NHL's postseason gets taken over by arbiters who upstage the players and terminate entertainment with their incessant whistles and ego tripping.

    Game 2 in San Jose was a disgrace, an example of everything wrong with the NHL and its officials. Fortunately for the Blues, and for the NHL, a solid crew was assigned to Monday's Game 3. For the most part, referees Don Koharski and Dennis LaRue let the players compete. They didn't interrupt the game's busy, speedy flow. The referees gave this playoff game back to the athletes and the fans.

    So it was hockey time again, exactly what the Stanley Cup playoffs should be. Sillinger zoomed in on his target. And when Sillinger scored his first of three goals in Game 3, solving the difficult Nabokov, the Blues had their first lead of the series, and used the instant momentum to charge to a 4-1 victory over the Sharks.

    The Blues, down 2-1 in games, aren't back in this best-of-seven series. They won't truly be in this series unless they grab Game 4 tonight at Savvis and even things up. This will be a tough Game 4 for the Blues, if you buy into the theory that the younger San Jose team will be more capable of rejuvenating itself for the second of consecutive night games.

    If the Blues lose Game 4, they'll be pushed into the unenviable, longshot position of erasing a 3-1 deficit, with two of the final three to be played in San Jose.

    The Blues simply dominated the Sharks in Game 3, controlling the ice and the tempo, outshooting the visitors 25-8 through two periods. Sillinger's second goal was as important as his first; after San Jose pulled to 2-1, Sillinger answered (taking a sweet lead-in pass from Keith Tkachuk) to give the Blues a 3-1 lead. Sillinger then finished the Sharks off with an empty-net goal.

    Drake, who provided a goal and an assist in addition to his usual relentless energy, was terrific. The Blues juiced up their offense, in part, by outhitting San Jose, and not giving the Sharks' speed a chance to get revved up. Tactically, the Blues kept San Jose hemmed in along the boards in a strategy that took away the lanes in the center of the ice.

    The Blues simply refused allow the Sharks to get comfortable. And the Blues have to do it again, in Game 4. Provided, of course, that the officials let the teams play.
    RIP Chris Jones 1971-2009
    You'll never be forgotten.