Want to start an argument? Tell any sports fan whose team just lost a playoff game that the officiating was just fine.
Right now, Detroit Red Wings fans are frothing at the mouth, convinced that the guys in striped shirts were more important than the guys in teal shirts (the Sharks) in San Jose's 4-3 Game 2 victory over Detroit. The lunatic fringe among them see a vast conspiracy by the NHL; while I'm a little hazy on how this is supposed to work, they apparently think the league wants its warm-weather franchises to prosper.
Leaving that silliness aside, there remains the question of how visible the refs should be come playoff time. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: "the refs shouldn't decide the game. Let them play!"
Baloney. What's the point of the rulebook and the officials who enforce it? That's an easy one: to prevent either side from gaining an unfair advantage. The best team should win, and one way you prove you're the best team is to avoid penalties or fouls.
I have never understood the argument that the officiating should change once the playoffs start. Of course, I believe the officiating should be even-handed. But "letting them play" isn't even-handed. It's a way of letting the less-talented or less-disciplined team back into the game. That's not fair.
Much of the furor in Detroit centers around the second penalties called during Sharks power plays. Both were pretty easy calls, setting up the dreaded 5-on-3 advantage for the Sharks. Few are arguing that the Detroit players were blameless; instead, they fall back on a variation on the "let them play" theme and argue that the officials shouldn't award 5-on-3 advantages in the playoffs. Absurd, of course: by this logic, a shorthanded team could break every rule in the book.
Some of life's best lessons are learned young. I once complained to a coach about the ref who'd whistled me for three quick fouls in a basketball game. I railed that the refs were deciding the game, not the teams. The coach's response sticks with me today: "If you don't want the refs to decide the game, don't let them."