LOS ANGELES — Henrik Lundqvist stewed as he sat at his stall on Saturday night, a New York Rangers baseball cap pulled low on his head, his hands clasped against his chin, the bottom half of his goalie gear untouched. He took a deep breath. As reporters began to crowd, he put his hands over his ears and looked down. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked up. He scratched his beard. He clasped his hands against his chin again, and he stewed some more.
Eventually he stripped off his gear – peeling off tape, balling it up, tossing it away in disgust. He stood, put on a shirt, collected his thoughts, took another deep breath and let it all out, as carefully as he could.
“I’m extremely disappointed in that call,” he said, “or non-call.”
The turning point of the Rangers’ 5-4 double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings – a crusher that put them in a 2-0 hole in the Stanley Cup Final – came 1:58 into the third period.
The Rangers had a 4-2 lead when Kings defenseman Matt Greene wristed the puck toward the net from the right point. The puck hit Kings winger Dwight King, who was in the crease, tangled with Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh – and right on top of Lundqvist.
The puck went in, and veteran referee Dan O’Halloran, stationed to the side, with a clear view of the play, did not hesitate. He pointed to the net. He pointed to the net again.
In a sitting position, Lundqvist looked at O’Halloran, slammed his hands on the ice and said something. He slammed them again and said something else.
“After that,” Lundqvist said later, “it’s a different game. I don’t expect a penalty on the play, but they need to blow the whistle. The goalie can’t move when you have a guy like that on top of you. It’s such an important play of the game, and I don’t buy the explanation.”
What was the explanation?
O’Halloran told Lundqvist the puck was already past him when King fell on top of him. The referee also felt McDonagh initiated contact with King.
“That’s a wrist shot I’m just going to reach out for, and I can’t move,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a different game after that. Such an important play of the game, and you know …”
Another deep breath.
“They’ve just got to be better.”
Lundqvist is right. After that, it was a different game. They do have to be better. This should spark discussion in New York when the competition committee meets Monday before Game 3 and the general managers meet Wednesday before Game 4.
Rule 69 – “Interference on the Goalkeeper” – takes up 2-1/2 pages of the NHL rulebook. It is full of nuance, and it requires judgment. It does not allow for video review. The referees have one split-second look to make an incredibly difficult call.
“The overriding rationale of this rule,” the book states, “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 the purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.”
The GMs discussed goalie interference and video review at their annual meeting in March. Among the ideas: allowing the referees to review goalie interference on a TV monitor in the penalty box. “If the goaltender is not allowed to make a play on the shot,” said Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray at the time, “then we should get the call as correct as we can.”
It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? If the puck is in the net, the clock has stopped. There is no concern about rewinding the clock and undoing whatever happened in the interim, as there is with other plays. There is no reason O’Halloran and partner Wes McCauley couldn’t have gone over to the penalty box, looked at some replays and made sure they saw what they thought they saw.
The puck was indeed in the net before King fell on top of Lundqvist. But does that matter? What matters is whether Lundqvist was able to move freely in his crease, and he wasn’t.
The better argument for allowing the goal was that McDonagh initiated contact with King. As King skated for the front of the net, McDonagh established position just outside the crease. King squeezed into the blue paint between McDonagh and Lundqvist. King and McDonagh jostled as the shot came from the point and Lundqvist tried to make the save.
“You give him the inside,” McDonagh said. “If he goes to the inside, he’s got to be running into your goalie. That’s kind of the way I was thinking about it. He chose to go to the inside, but the ref obviously didn’t think he was interfering.”
No, he didn’t. But shouldn’t the referees be able to take another look, if only to make sure?
“Yeah,” said Lundqvist, steamed that teammate Benoit Pouliot took a goalie interference penalty in the second period at the other end of the ice. “Why not? Why not video replay? We don’t have to have two different calls in the same situation in the same game.”
Asked what he would say if he could talk to the competition committee and the GMs, he said: “Just be consistent with it. If they don’t call that, you can’t call what they called in the second period. Benny got pushed in and tried to avoid [Kings goalie Jonathan Quick], and it gets two minutes, and the puck is not even there. And then we have the same play and they score.”
You can say it’s only one play. You can point to all the Rangers’ mistakes and missed chances beforehand and afterward. They had leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 and lost – after taking a 2-0 lead and losing Game 1 in overtime, 3-2. They had glorious chances to win in the first OT, but the puck rolled off Dominic Moore’s stick, Chris Kreider hit a goal post, Mats Zuccarello’s shot missed the net high, Kreider missed on a breakaway, Kreider got robbed on a rebound. So, so many chances.
But one play matters – in a game, in a series – maybe more than ever before. For 61 years, the Stanley Cup Final did not have both Games 1 and 2 go to overtime. For three years in a row now, it has happened. This is the era of the salary cap and parity, when the teams are tight and the games are close, even in a supposed favorite-underdog matchup like Kings-Rangers. The least the league can do is bring more modern technology to modern hockey, so the officials have a fighting chance in a fast game and get the calls as correct as they can.
“That’s hockey,” Lundqvist said. “One play can change everything, and I felt like that play did.”
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