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Rangers, Devils remind us why NHL coaches’ challenges are a necessity

Greg Wyshynski
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There's an inherent conflict between my New Jersey Devils fandom and my dogma/world view/philosophical bull[crap] about the National Hockey League.

I'm an advocate for personality and flair; the Devils won three Cups as the antithesis of such things. I loathe the shootout with the fury of a thousand burning suns, yet it's in the skills competition that the Devils earn more hollow points than a teacher's pet narc'ing on a cheating classmate.

Last night, another clash of concerns: The Devils defeat, agitate and anger the New York Rangers, 1-0, thanks in part to a goal waved-off with 3.5 seconds remaining due to goaltender interference; yet my admitted bemusement with the victory is undercut by what is now a complete injustice in the National Hockey League.

Not the play itself, necessarily. But that there's no appeals process to ensure that the call was correct.

First, the play in question, as Marian Gaborik crashed the net, Anton Volchenkov leaned on him and Gaborik made contact with Martin Brodeur:

What a mess. It sparked all sorts of debate last night, partisan or otherwise. That goes for players, too, via NHL.com:

"They have rules -- you hit the goalie, you get a penalty. I saw him push Marty. I maybe pushed him a little, but I didn't push so hard." — Anton Volchenkov

"I don't understand. It's frustrating. If I would have run him, I wouldn't say a word. But the guy pushes me into him. I tried to open my leg for a pass, I tried to stop. But he just pushed me into Brodeur." —Marian Gaborik

Two players, two different views; and when you've watched the replay 20 times, you can see why. It's not an obvious push by Volchenkov. It's not an obvious goalie run by Gaborik. You can see little variations each time — a shove by the Devil's arm, Gaborik going in high on Brodeur — yet never come to a firm conclusion.

Here's what the rules say on goalie interference:

"The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper's ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

"If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact."

The essential question: Did Gaborik attempt to stop outside of Brodeur's crease, and was he then shoved into the crease by Volchenkov's body? And was that attempt clear enough to where Gaborik did not intentionally enter Brodeur's crease?

I'd say "no." The last angle shows Volchenkov riding Gaborik, but also shows Gaborik attempting to stop but failing to do so independent of Volchenkov's actions. He didn't mean to run Brodeur; but he impaired him from making a save by his own actions. It's a call that has to be made, and will be made every time.

I see it one way, you see it another … the point is that the referees or the War Room in Toronto should have seen it again.

It's further evidence that we need coaches' challenges in the NHL.

Dale Tallon pushed for this two years ago, offering these situations for a once-a-game coach's challenge:

Applies only to goal-related plays

Challenge must be issued within prescribed time limit

Team must have timeout left to issue challenge

Unsuccessful challenge results in loss of timeout

Successful challenge results in no loss of timeout

One challenge per team per game

The Rangers still had their timeout; under this proposal, John Tortorella could have thrown the flag or a bundle of sticks or fired a flare gun and gotten a video review of this play.

Would it have overturned the call? It doesn't matter. What matters is that there's a play in the National Hockey League that decides whether or not a goal should be allowed that currently isn't reviewable.

Think about how many other incidents that can take a goal off the board get a look from the War Room: high sticks, kicked pucks, pucks directed in off gloves, pucks entering the net before or after it comes off its moorings.

Yet goalie interference, a game-changing play, isn't admissible for review?

The reason, one imagines, is two-fold: First, because there could be multiple reviews in a game, slowing it down to a snail's pace; and second, because of conundrums like the one above. In the first case, that's why you limit challenges to one per game; in the second, you simply defer back to the on-ice official's original call, just like in the NFL, if you can figure out the specifics in the allotted time.

There would have still been outrage either way after the War Room or the officials confirmed the call last night at MSG. But at least it would have been reviewed and debated, rather than having a split-second decision determine a victor.

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