PORT HURON, Mich. -- Look, I am not one to blame officiating for a loss. But I think what went down at McMorran Arena on Wednesday night was really sad to see.
I don't want to say referee Bob Langdon decided a game, but he decided this one. If you are going to give a team a 5-on-3 advantage in the final five minutes of a tied playoff game, they cannot be marginal calls. The interference penalties on Colin Chaulk and, particularly, Kevin Bertram were not worth, possibly, deciding the series.
But Langdon opted not to let the players decide the outcome and gave the Icehawks that 5-on-3 advantage, and it resulted in goals for Kris Vernarsky and Mickael Bedard. And it resulted in a 4-2 victory for the Icehawks, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 heading back to Memorial Coliseum for a game Friday night.
The Komets can draw on history for inspiration -- they trailed the Icehawks 3-1 heading home during the 2008 Finals, and wound up winning -- but this one has to sting the two-time defending champions.
They commanded much of the 5-on-5 play but couldn't finish their chances. In my opinion, they were passing up too many easy shots. Even after Port Huron goalie Larry Sterling went down with an injury -- he appeared woozy after the game -- the Komets weren't peppering shots on rookie goaltender Raffaele D'Orso.
I know that may sound hard to believe with the Komets outshooting the Icehawks 42-29, but there were three odd-man rushes in which the Komets opted to pass instead of shoot. Against a green rookie, who never got a warm-up, you shoot. If you don't score, you'll probably get a rebound.
Midway through the third period, the Komets got a 2-on-0 rush and David Hukalo opted to pass it to Matt Syroczynski, whose shot went into the corner.
Soon, the Icehawks' power play was able to take over.
All the blame doesn't go to Langdon, of course. The Komets have been taking dumb penalties the entire series. Port Huron is 7 of 21 on the power play and has only 13 goals in the entire series.
But the back-to-back interference calls on Chaulk and Bertram were ticky-tacky.
"I didn't think the calls were warranted," Chaulk said. "But the referee makes the call that he sees. Berty and I are veteran guys and can't be taking penalties like that. I'll take responsibility for that."
That was tame compared to what other players were saying.
"Some of the calls that are being made are ridiculous," left wing P.C. Drouin said. "The call on (Chaulk during) our power play is just something that's never called. I just don't know what's going on. I don't know what the refs are doing, but it's getting really embarrassing. It's turning the momentum around completely. We have a power play. We're buzzing. We're shooting. We're getting rebounds. All of a sudden, the ref decides to switch the momentum around and give us penalty."
Is this series over? Tough to say.
Nick Boucher can steal games for the Komets and I've got to believe he'll be in net Friday. D'Orso's inexperience is an X-Factor, assuming Sterling is unable to play. And the Komets got some terrific performances from unheralded players like Bertram and Brandon Warner. Still, some players need to step up and help the offense, namely, Leo Thomas, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and David Hukalo.
This is when you find out about a team: if they've got the heart to battle for the season, if they've tuned out the coach, if the leadership is there. If they come out banging early Friday night, this series could still be interesting,. If they're flat, that just means they don't want to get back on the bus for a Game 6 in Port Huron.
Interesting note: The Komets want the IHL to reduce the suspension for Justin Hodgman to one game, since Nick Lindberg was able to play Wednesday. Hodgman got two games for the baseball-like slash in Sunday's game. As far as I'm concerned, you can't change it on those merits. You judge the penalty, not the resulting injury.
I know that may sound strange, since I'm complaining that Langdon shouldn't call a penalty because it could decide a season. But there's a difference between seeing a baseball-like slash that could really injure a player and seeing marginal interference that affects nothing.
Just my opinion.