What would a triple-OT game be without some controversy? Two periods before Mike Fisher won it for Nashville to knot up the series, San Jose’s Joe Pavelski thought he had finished things off, scoring from his belly (and with Pekka Rinne pinned beneath him). It was a mess.
The goal was immediately waved off, and video review in the War Room in Toronto confirmed it: Pavelski had made “incidental contact” with Rinne, so the no-goal call was upheld. It’s a legitimately tough call:
“Just coming in, following the play,” Pavelski said afterward, his disjointed sentences trying to make sense of it all. “The puck comes, get it down, there’s guys on me, feels like I’m getting pushed and hammered. Just looking for the puck. I know I hit it in before the goal line. It was just one of those plays, I don’t know. It’s kind of out of your hands.”
You can watch it as many times as you like, and see things whichever way you choose. Pavelski was hauling down an airborne rebound with his glove when Paul Gaustad gave him a check from behind. (But how hard a shove?) Pavelski’s momentum carried him over Shea Weber’s knee, tumbling right on top of Rinne.
No one disputes that Rinne was interfered with—in the parlance of the league’s brief explanation, “[prevented] from doing his job in the crease.” The contact was ruled incidental, so no malice was ascribed to Pavelski. But the convoluted rules on goaltender interference seem to make allowance for contact between attacker and goalie in certain situations.
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 to be 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 questions in play, then, are: Was Pavelski’s trucking of Rinne “caused” by his contact with Gaustad and Weber? Did Pavelski make a “reasonable effort” to avoid pancaking Rinne? Since the goal came after the initial collision, was Pavelski’s first responsibility to disengage from Rinne before playing the puck across the goalmouth?
All the key terms in there are open to interpretation, and that’s by design: There’s no way to write a hard-and-fast rule for a situation with so many degrees of possibilities, so it’s left to the officials to take on a case-by-case basis.
The downside of that necessity is that giving referees leeway can easily lead to a lack of consistency, and that’s what Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was complaining about after the game.
“I don’t understand,” DeBoer said. “I guess incidental contact is you’re cross-checked from behind while you are in the air and you have the opportunity to stop. I guess that’s what it is. You know what, that rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year, so why should it be different tonight?”
Again, tough call. (I land on the side of no-goal, but I do not come down strongly.) One of those where every single Sharks fan can’t understand why it wasn’t a goal, and where every single Preds fan doesn’t see why the ruling was controversial. These rulings have to be made all the time, but it’s a particular bummer in playoff OT, when they can change games, maybe series, perhaps even entire seasons.