Alex Ovechkin thought he had tied Game 6 in the third period as he came streaking in trying to poke a loose puck into the net. As the puck crossed the goal line and Ovechkin celebrated with his teammates, the referee paused a moment, surrounded by Carolina Hurricanes players, then waved his arms. No goal.
The call proved to be one of the pivotal moments of Washington's Game 6 loss and the Caps never recovered. Instead of tying the game at 3 and stealing momentum away from the Hurricanes, the Caps allowed two more goals to Carolina for the exclamation as the Hurricanes forced Game 7.
Evgeny Kuznetsov skated past the net with the puck, put on the brakes and tried to curl the puck back into the net to catch Mrazek off-guard. Mrazek had the puck between his pads and turned, but Ovechkin saw a loose puck, came in and pushed it into the net. The referee waved it off almost immediately.
"We make a push, we scored a goal – I think it was clear," Ovechkin said, "But again, it's on referee decisions and they made decisions."
The play was a frustrating one not just because of its importance, but because the Caps were not exactly sure why the goal was disallowed in the first place.
"It's kind of unclear for me as well right now," Todd Reirden told the media after the game.
"As playoffs go on there's not a lot of communication between the refs and the coaches as there is during the regular season. They made their decision and it really wasn't up for debate. They don't have to come and give you a reason why and they did not come to the bench and tell me why."
The problem is that Ovechkin caught the pad of Mrazek while going for the puck resulting in incidental contact. That was enough to disallow the goal. The Caps challenged, but the call was upheld.
The NHL released the following explanation of the call:
At 10:34 of third period in the Capitals/Hurricanes game, Washington requested a Coach's Challenge to review the "Interference on the Goalkeeper" decision that resulted in a "no goal" call.
After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referee, the Situation Room confirmed that Alex Ovechkin interfered with Petr Mrazek by pushing his pad, which caused the puck to enter the net. According to Rule 69.3, "If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed."
Therefore, the original call is upheld – no goal Washington Capitals.
By the letter of the law, this is the correct call. Mrazek was in the crease and you cannot argue Ovechkin did not make contact with Mrazek's pad. While he was clearly going for the puck and not attempting to push Mrazek, it is irrelevant as the rule states even incidental contact will result in a no goal call.
Here's the problem: This is a dumb rule. To say any contact with a goalie in the crease will result in a disallowed goal is a ridiculously strict standard that does not take into account battles over loose pucks that literally happen multiple times in every game.
"I saw the puck," Ovechkin said. "He didn't get it in control. He didn't see that, so I don't know what the referee saw or what the explanation was."
"From our angle from the bench it looked like the puck was loose," Reirden said. "We talked with our video staff and they felt like it was worth a challenge in that situation. That's not how the league or the referees saw it and that's a decision they made. But for us, we thought the puck was loose. It was still a puck that was in play."
But if even incidental contact can result in no goal, there is almost no way for a player to battle for a loose puck in the crease because he almost certainly will make contact with the goalie.
That puck was loose. It was in between Mrazek's pads and it was loose. Ovechkin should be allowed to battle for the puck, but he can't.
"If he has it covered, you can't push him in," Brooks Orpik said, "But we didn't think he had it covered and if he doesn't have it covered usually you can get in there and it is fair game and it is kind of like a rebound."
Rebounds are a part of hockey. Battles for loose pucks are a part of hockey. Pretending like this never happens in the crease is absurd.
If the rule stated that you cannot make intentional contact with a goalie within the crease, that is understandable. If the debate was over whether or not Ovechkin was going for the puck or intentionally pushing Mrazek's pads, that is understandable. The fact that this goal was disallowed because Ovechkin is not able to battle for a puck that was clearly loose is an insane standard.
The Caps were upset after Game 6 over the disallowed goal and they should be. But it wasn't a bad call that screwed them, it was a bad rule.
"What I can say?" Ovechkin said. "They make a call. It's on them, so it's over."
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