The term "Hanging Judge" is a relatively common one in legal circles.
Turn the words around, however, and you'll have a more accurate idea of what coach Rick Dudley and the rest of the Buffalo Sabres had in mind for the goal judge in Memorial Auditorium Friday night.
"We got a goal taken away by our own goal judge," said the beleaguered Buffalo Sabres coach Friday after his team lost for a 4-3 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "Incredible."
It was incredible that the Sabres lost a season-high fourth straight game despite having outshot the Penguins, 31-23, including a whopping 16-6 margin in the first period. It was incredible that goaltender Daren Puppa, making his first start in nearly a month, was touched for two goals off the first four shots he faced before giving way to Clint Malarchuk. It was incredible that Uwe Krupp got a holding penalty that led to Pittsburgh's second goal and that Barry Pederson scored Pittsburgh's third goal after Malarchuk seemingly smothered the puck at the goal line.
It was also incredible that the Sabres could even function in an atmosphere that is now so charged with tension that something or someone may well explode at any moment.
In fact, Dudley opened his post-game press conference by saying that if anyone asked him about his job (status) he would leave. He said it was a matter for Sabres General Manager Gerry Meehan to address and then said he was tired of answering questions about it. After that, he calmly and very rationally praised the team for the effort it gave him.
He then proceeded to hang the goal judge out to dry. Big time.
"I blame him a lot," Dudley said after the judge at the south end of the rink chose not credit Rick Vaive with a goal after it appeared he had scored what would have been a go-ahead goal for the Sabres midway through the second period. Vaive, who went in on a clean breakaway from the right side, appeared to beat goaltender Frank Pietrangelo with a rising slap shot that found the roof of the net. The puck was in and out in a millisecond, but the light never came on and neither referee Rob Shick or linesmen Wayne Bonney or Mark Pare, chose to overrule the judge.
"There were four people who didn't see it," Dudley said blaming the judge, the referee and the two linesmen. It was amazing.
Still, Dudley held the judge most accountable.
"It was so blatant," he said. "That's his job. It's his job to see the puck go in the net. He let everyone off the hook when he didn't see it. . . . It wasn't like it hit just under the bar, it hit the net. It's incredible that the goal judge didn't see it. That's his job. His only job is to see the puck go in the net and I think it's an incredible injustice that a guy that incompetent has that job.
"Whether he wasn't watching or what I don't know, but this hurts. It hurt a lot."
It likely was the turning point of the game. Pittsburgh seemed to get a lift and eventually it scored the go-ahead goal when Mullen tapped Paul Stanton's long drive past Malarchuk at 6:57 of the third.
Bryan Trottier, Tony Tanti and Barry Pederson also scored for Pittsburgh in what amounted to a see-saw game. Buffalo got goals from Dave Snuggerud, Greg Brown (his NHL first) and Dave Andreychuk.
There was an effort to win this one both for Dudley and themselves from most of the players, but it wasn't from everyone all the time. A fact not wasted on Vaive.
"I told him (the goal judge) it was in and he missed it," Vaive said. "It doesn't matter though. It wasn't the sole reason we lost the game. We had chances all night. The unfortunate thing is we're running out of chances right now. It's gotten to the point now where we've got to dig ourselves out. A good effort isn't good enough. we're finding ways to lose."