Sat Apr 02 10:40pm EDT
Bill McCreary's NHL officiating career began on Nov. 3, 1984, when he was whistling penalties in a New Jersey Devils game against the Washington Capitals at the Caps Centre. It ended Saturday night in the Caps' 5-4 overtime victory at home against the Buffalo Sabres -- the 1,737th regular-season game of his career.
Here's McCreary, moments after his final game; an odd one that didn't see a penalty called until the 7:59 mark of the third period, when Washington was whistled for too many men on the ice.
As we said, it was an odd night: McCreary and Marc Joannette didn't call a penalty for 47 minutes and 59 seconds, leading some conspiracy theorists in the press box and on social media wondering if the veteran was going out with his whistle swallowed.
When asked if he was wondering the same, Drew Stafford(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres said: "I'm sure he probably didn't want to get booed by the crowd. But you don't want to try and guess what the refs are going to try and do. You want to play your game."
Stafford said the flow of the game during the first two periods didn't warrant many instances when penalties should have been called.
"We were just trying to go with the flow of the game. Obviously, they're going to make the right calls. Bill McCreary's always been one of the best refs of all-time. He knows what's going on out there," he said. "It was a tight checking game and there really wasn't anything too obvious. At least until the end there."
In the end, McCreary did what so many fans feel McCreary has done throughout his career: Made a critical, game-changing call at a critical, game-changing time. In this case, it was a high-sticking call on Paul Gaustad(notes) with 1:25 left that led to a 6-on-4 Capitals power-play goal to force overtime.
McCreary, on the lack of penalties: "I think we almost had a no-hitter the other night," he said. "It just happens sometimes that the penalties come late or they come early."
McCreary was honored in a pregame ceremony. There were many cheers, and some jeers from the cheap seats, at least at first; they were soon drowned out by a rousing ovation for a ref hanging up his stripes.