Explanation of Controversial Claims Granting Leaves Win Over Devils

We saw one of the brutal games of the year on Wednesday night, as the Maple Leafs went to New Jersey and ended the Devils’ 13-win streak.

Or did they? The arrangement will say they did, but that doesn’t mean Devils fans have to accept that. While the final score would go down in the books as 2-1 to Toronto, the Devils put Matt Murray’s puck down four times on the night. The first three did not count, thanks to a pair of goalkeeper tackle calls followed by a signature kicking move. By the time the last goal was erased, angry Devils fans in attendance were pelting the ice with beer and debris, while others raved online about the apparent plot.

Do they have a case? As the self-proclaimed rulebook guy around these parts, I’m here to help. Let’s do this question-and-answer style.

Should the Devils’ first goal be counted?

The first scoreless came early in the kickoff, with a Dougie Hamilton volley on Murray. The goal was immediately waved off, and replays showed Nathan Bastien was in the crease. Lindy challenged Ruff and the Devils, but the appeal was confirmed on the ice.

It’s the right call, as you already know if you’ve read my detailed guide to understanding a goalkeeper’s tackle. As that post made clear, usually the key to any goalkeeper’s tackle ruling is the puck – if the attacking player is there, it probably won’t be a goal. Bastien is clearly the same, and he’s in Murray’s way as the Leafs goaltender tries to slide his board through the ball to play the shot.

But he hardly touched it!

Right, but that doesn’t matter. There is friction, enough that it “impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or to defend his own goal”. According to the rulebook, this makes this call easy. In fact, it didn’t even matter if there was any connection at all. If the player is in a crease and in the path of the goalkeeper, there is supposed to be no goal. And while there is enough gray area to make that judgment sometimes, they almost always give the goalkeeper the benefit of the doubt.

As I’ve said more than a few times, even if you understand the rule, you’ll still run into cases where the call is debatable. This is part of the reason I think we should get rid of these reviews altogether. But this was not one of those times. The judges got it right, at the start and after another revision.

So Lindy Ruff was wrong in her challenge?

Well maybe. This is a more complicated question, because a goal in a low-scoring NHL is a big deal. You don’t have to be 50/50 to make a challenge worth it, because the penalty for failure is only two small minutes. If you think you will lose 60/40 or even 70/30, it may still be worth rolling the dice.

But in this case, I think it was close to 90/10, or maybe just 100/0. Remember, the call on the ice wasn’t a target, so in theory, a close call against the Devils was. And again, this wasn’t quite close. I bet Rove wishes he had this back.

OK, but what about the second goal? If barely touching the goalkeeper means the goal cannot be counted, can we assume that eliminating it is obvious?

Weirdly, no. I actually thought the demons had a case here.

The connection is much clearer. But it also comes outside the crease, and the rules are different on white ice. If the goalkeeper is outside his crease, cross contact is now allowed. Thomas Tatar obviously manages Murray, but unlike the first target, he was allowed to be around as long as he didn’t initiate contact on purpose. Is it? Perhaps, players know how to make these things look like an accident. But I think you could argue he was just getting close to the net and Murray is stepping in front of him, making accidental contact and a good goal.

So the demons have been corrupted!

Well, except that Rafe could have challenged and he didn’t. Again, calling on the ice wasn’t a goal, so he’s taking a risk if he’s challenged. But he decided not to, and it’s kind of hard to complain about a call when you have the right to appeal and you’re not using it.

Wait, could Rafe challenge the second target? Didn’t he lose the challenge in the first place?

No. This is now how the base works anymore. It was, when the penalty for a missed challenge was losing your time out. But the league changed the rule a few years ago, and now coaches can challenge as much as they want.

There is one important detail here: if he had challenged and judged Raf, the Devils would have taken a double minor instead of the usual minor. This is the added punishment for being wrong more than once. It may have affected Raf’s accounts here. Or maybe he just thought it wasn’t his night when it came to reruns. But he could have challenged if he wanted to, and if he did, I wouldn’t be surprised if he won.

If the referee thinks play is not a goal, doesn’t the rule book say he should punish the devils?

It’s kind of the way it is, though I’ll admit I’m a little suspicious of this one. There are two sections of the rulebook dealing with the situation where contact outside the crease is considered non-accidental: Rule 69 in the main rules, and then again in Schedule 16 at the end. Table 16 makes it sound either-or: either it’s accidental contact and a good goal, or it’s non-accidental and the attacking player gets a penalty. Rule 69 seems to say that as well, although there is a bit of ambiguity that I may not be analyzing properly. But yeah, I always thought it was one or the other, and the referee had to give the Devils a penalty if he was going to go wide of the goal.

So the sheets were screwed!

Don’t even start, my demon fans are mad enough at me.

Before we get to the third goal, what’s the deal with Matt Murray pushing home and breaking the anchor? Isn’t it supposed to be a penalty for delaying the match?

definitely. Halfway through the game and with the Devils pressing on, Murray slid across his crease and slammed into his own net so hard it took several minutes to fix. This was obviously intended, and yes, it is meant to be a penalty. The referee must decide whether the net was thrown out by mistake or on purpose, and may award a match delay penalty if it is the latter. In this case, it clearly was, and should have been, two minutes. Demon lovers were entitled to be angry at this, although at least this time it didn’t directly cost them any aim.

Hey, shouldn’t we fix this by having all internet calls auto-shifted like a puck-over-glass so they’re black and white and we get it right?

Don’t even joke about this, some stupid GM will suggest this at the next meeting.

Well, to the third (!) Goal. Could Devils fans be mad about that?

At this point, the score is 2-0 Leafs midway through the third period. The Devils score again, and this time the on-ice appeal is a goal. But then there’s an automatic review from the operating room to see if it was brought up.

And… yeah, it started. The “signature kicking action” rule is confusing and misconceived, but this one is pretty straightforward. Eric Haola swings the discus skating into a clear kick, which is the last devil to touch, so it never counts.

He kicked pucks, sure, but not directly into the net—they were deflected off a Leafs skate. Doesn’t that matter?

no. We’ve mentioned a few places where the rulebook is frustratingly vague about things, but in this case, it’s pretty straightforward. Rule 37.4 states that a puck cannot be kicked, even if it is eventually entered “by a subsequent deflection of another player.” The fact that Haula didn’t kick the puck in the direction of the net didn’t matter. Nor his intention. Once he kicks it – and he obviously did – it won’t count unless another demon puts his wand on him before he crosses the line. Nobody did, so this was the easiest call of the night.

You can think that this is not how the rule should work and maybe they will change it someday. But as currently written, this was very easy.

Bottom line, do demon lovers have the right to be angry here isn’t it?

Let’s start with the obvious warning that it is not acceptable to throw debris on the ice or in the direction of players or officials. But then… sure, go crazy. You are hockey fans. You’re not supposed to be objective, you’re supposed to love your team and want them to win and see everything through that lens. Booing a reference is part of the NHL fan experience. The Devils had a bunch of very important calls against them, including three unheard of calls that cost them goals, and it all happened in a game they were going for history. Sure, be as crazy as you want to be.

Just know that the referees were right on two goals, and on the other your coach could have challenged and he didn’t. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good breakdown, but in this case, facts are facts.

(Top photo by Timothy Lillgren: Ed Mulholland/USA Today)

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