Dave Tippett, normally a classy fellow, played a sour note after his Phoenix Coyotes were pinned to the mat by the Los Angeles Kings.
It's the referees, the Coyotes head coach said after the Kings beat the Coyotes 2-1 Thursday to take a 3-0 lead in the NHL Western Conference final. The referees are falling for all that diving by the Kings.
Why, it's ruining our game, the coach fulminated. Only the thought of a hefty fine from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman - should he switch hats from Coyotes owner to league boss - kept the put-upon fellow from telling it like it is.
"If I told you what I really thought, I think it would cost me a lot of money," Tippett said.
Actually, the coach still managed to say plenty.
"Personally, I've talked about this in a lot of meetings with Don [Maloney] our general manager, that the game is turning a little dishonest and it's embellishment by players," Tippett said. "When it's done well, it's very hard for the referees, very hard, because if you fall down near the boards or you drop your stick or you throw your head back, you're putting the referee in a very tough situation.
"You know, it's not just our game tonight, you see it all through [the playoffs] The referees have a hard job. What it does, it makes the game dishonest. In actual fact, to make it work to your favour, you've got to do it more. You've got to do it. If everybody else is doing it, you better do it, too.
"We saw more than one penalty out there for us and against us that were called that I thought were plays where there was embellishment. It's too bad it has to go that way. It's too bad you get to this point in the season that that becomes a factor, but it's the reality of our game right now."
The penalty that raised the coach's ire came in the last minute of the third period when Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata was called for slashing the stick out of the hands of the Kings' Anze Kopitar. It erased any chance the Coyotes had of tying the score and they complained that Kopitar dropped his stick to draw the penalty.
This was rich coming from the coach of the team that carried on like ruffians in losing Game 2 of the best-of-seven series. Kings forward Dustin Brown was fortunate he wasn't crippled when he was driven into the boards from behind by Coyotes centre Martin Hanzal, who was suspended for Game 3. Coyotes captain Shane Doan was tossed from the same game when he hit Trevor Lewis from behind.
There is no doubt the referees are letting a lot more go in the playoffs than they did in the regular season. Just ask Scotty Bowman. "There's a little more in the playoffs," was his understated way of noting the leniency.
The way the Coyotes played in Game 2 showed they fully understood this. However, they should also have understood the Hanzal and Doan hits would draw greater scrutiny from the referees in Game 3.
Yet here was Doan early in the game punching Kings centre Jarret Stoll in the head to take a penalty. The Coyotes were better behaved in Thursday's game but they were still a bit less disciplined than the Kings, which is fatal against a team that is getting scoring from everywhere. Combine that with the more watchful eye from the referees and the Coyotes paid the price.
They took six minor penalties to the Kings' two, giving the Kings three power plays in the third period after the Coyotes fell behind 2-1.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who held his tongue when Hanzal was suspended for just one game and Doan escaped a suspension after Game 2, had the right response. When apprised of Tippett's complaints, Sutter raised a Spockian eyebrow.
"Embellishing? I didn't see that," he said. "We didn't complain last game."