Just 24 seconds in the third period, the Washington Capitals nearly made it a very different Game 7 on Wednesday night. With the Montreal Canadiens leading 1-0 and winger Mike Knuble crashing the crease, Alex Ovechkin's shot found its way past Jaroslav Halak.
Sirens blared. Lights flashed. The Capitals celebrated against the glass ... all while referee Brad Watson was emphatically waving off the goal because Knuble had interfered with Halak. No penalty, but no goal. The play can be found starting at 5:34 of this clip from the NHL:
Knuble initiated contact with Halak, while the Canadiens goaltender was in his crease. That much is clear. But in the aftermath of the Capitals' stunning 2-1 loss on home ice to the No. 8-seeded Canadiens, this moment drew the ire and disbelief from Knuble and Coach Bruce Boudreau in the face of what the NHL Rulebook says on the matter.
Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper's ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgment of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.
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.
That's the rule; Knuble said it's one that hasn't been enforced:
"That's a violation that hasn't been called all year. I felt that I wasn't a crease presence, as far as being in the blue paint, I was right on the edge where I should be and we talked about it, the referee and I. I haven't seen the replay yet, but that is something weird."
Boudreau, in his first question and answer of his postgame press conference, believed the goal should have counted:
"I watched it just now 4 or 5 times. It feels like you're whining if you say things negative. But that was a pretty tough one to take. If Knuble's right foot touched his pad, it was ... it looked like it didn't. If it did, it was so light that I don't know how they could make the call. And I thought the puck was in the net before that anyway.
"I don't know if I'm right or wrong on the rule, but it's no goal and no penalty if you impede the goalie from being able to make a play. [Halak] did exactly what he wanted to do. There was no stopping him. He stretched out and went for the save. I don't see how the hell it [can't] be a goal.
"[Montreal] talked about us being in front of the net all the time to the supervisor. I don't know if that had any effect or not."
The contact in the crease was enough to validate Watson's decision, and it's a call that's expected in a game of this magnitude. Ryan O'Halloran of CSN Washington had the right take (almost):
The Capitals' waved-off goal early in the third period is one of those can-go-either-way calls. If Mike Knuble is standing stationary, the goal probably counts since Jaroslav Halak wouldn't have been impacted. But Knuble was gliding by - he might not have had both skates in the crease at one time - and just the little bit Halak bobbled equaled no goal. My only issue with the call is that it wasn't reviewed on replay by the on-ice officials and the NHL war room in Toronto.
Via NHL Rule 39.4, goalie interference is a non-reviewable infraction.
But the bottom line in this no-goal debate: It didn't occur on a power play, where the Capitals were 1-for-33 this series. This goal could have changed Game 7; but Washington's first-round failure went far beyond one waved-off tally.