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Official's Late Whistle Gets Attention of Stars

Dallas players not happy about cross-checking penalty with 3:16 to play, when teams usually get away with a minor infraction.

May 01, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

The topic of whistle storage was leading the agenda in the Dallas Stars' dressing room Wednesday night after a tense evening of playoff drama.

Conventional wisdom once suggested that the last few minutes of a playoff game, particularly a tied game, was no time for a referee to pull out the whistle and start calling penalties. Times have changed, though, as the NHL wants officials to crack down, particularly on hits from behind.

Dallas center Jason Arnott could understand the tripping call at 9:51 of the third period, sending him to the penalty box. But dispatching him for cross-checking the Ducks' Rob Niedermayer with 3:16 remaining in a scoreless playoff game left him visibly emotional afterward.

The late penalty resulted in a power-play goal by the Ducks' Mike Leclerc at 18:13, giving them a 1-0 victory in Game 4 at the Arrowhead Pond. These moments always carry larger implications, and no more so in this case, as the Ducks take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven-game series to Dallas for Game 5.

Arnott's voice started cracking, a bit, when he answered questions about the third-period calls after the game.

"The trip was a trip, no question," he said. "The cross check, I didn't think I hit him very hard. I kind of rode him into the boards and he fell down and he [referee Bill McCreary] made the call, nothing I can do about it now. That late in the game, it's pretty frustrating, it's pretty tough."

So, how about letting the players play?

"Absolutely," Arnott said. "This is playoffs. I mean, we're getting beaten in front of the net, and they're getting beaten in front of the net. That's playoff hockey.

"It's not like I went in deliberately and hammered him from behind. I barely even touched him. But he made the call. I'm not going to whine about it. He was standing there and made it, and that's it."

There has been back-and-forth verbal jousting about penalties, and Duck Coach Mike Babcock had the last word on Wednesday about the complaining.

"It shows you that it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease," he said, shrugging. "That's the fact of life."

Dallas finds itself in unexpected territory, facing a 3-1 series deficit, and you could say the development could be viewed as another mark in the category of spending-doesn't-equal-success theory. Of the five teams with the highest payrolls in the NHL, the Stars ($61.7 million) are the only remaining team in the playoffs.

Which has led to another contest going on behind the scenes during the NHL's playoffs, just as intense as the ones on the ice.

One team executive, an avid defender of the bottom line, is said to be taking great delight in whipping out his figurative pen and crossing out the highest-spending teams, recording a daily dose of doom.

He's been busy.

Detroit? We know about them, of course. The Red Wings' shop-till-you-drop ways, which were in excess of a $68-million payroll last season, couldn't get out of the first round, courtesy of the Ducks. They had the second-highest payroll in the league, just behind the Rangers.

Colorado? The Avalanche was in the Red Wings' neighborhood, payroll-wise, at No. 5, and it has something else in common this spring: vying for tee times with Detroit, having been banished in the first round by Minnesota.

Rangers? Missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

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