Bruins’ composure carries them past controversial goal to even series

Artemi Panarin caught a lucky break after the puck hit the netting behind the Bruins’ goal but play wasn’t stopped, letting him score for the Blue Jackets and tie the game.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The NHL probably owes the Boston Bruins an apology. They may want to pass along a thank-you note with it.

Had Tuukka Rask not rebounded with a strong performance after the Columbus Blue Jackets were gifted an early goal in Thursday’s Game 4, the league would have been dealing with a cap-C controversy in this second-round series.

Instead, it ended up being a moot point because of Boston’s 4-1 victory, albeit one that still left the visitors understandably frustrated. The Bruins couldn’t believe that none of the four on-ice officials saw the puck clearly hit the netting behind Rask’s net immediately before Artemi Panarin scored.

“You hope with eight eyes on the play that someone would say, ‘Hey, listen, that hit the net,”’ said coach Bruce Cassidy.

“This day and age, I think it’s crazy,” said Rask, who should have had a 39-save shutout. “If the refs don’t see it, I think [the league should review it]. They’re watching the game, right? What if that’s in overtime, you know?

“It didn’t cost us, but I think it’s just funny that they can look at a lot of other goals and call them back in the offices, so why not that?”

The reason is rule 38.4, which stipulates exactly what can and can’t be reviewed. It states that video can only be consulted on goals that are scored “immediately” after striking the netting.

In this case, Rask made a nice blocker stop after a Pierre-Luc Dubois tip and deflected the puck over the glass into the netting behind him. However, the play wasn’t whistled dead by referees Chris Rooney or Gord Dwyer and there was a brief moment of confusion before the puck landed in front of Oliver Bjorkstrand in the corner.

He backhanded it towards the goal and Panarin slammed it home.

The entire sequence took about four seconds and was recorded like this in the NHL’s official play-by-play of the game:

That nanosecond where the puck was unaccounted for completely disrupted the Bruins’ defensive-zone coverage. Defencemen Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara both looked visibly confused at the side of the goal, while winger David Backes drifted aimlessly towards the corner and centre David Krejci lost touch with Panarin in the slot.

“I had no idea where it went,” said McAvoy. “I’m in front doing pirouettes, looking for the dang thing. No idea. Next thing I know it’s in the net and I’m confused. I’m a little frustrated.”

Rask was left waiting for a whistle that never came. His ears were soon ringing with the cannon blast that accompanies every Blue Jackets goal inside Nationwide Arena.

“It was a high blocker shot. I think it hit somebody,” said Rask. “Then there’s like a five-second pause and I’m just thinking: ‘It’s got to be out of bounds.’ Then the next thing I see it’s on the left side, I start scrambling out on my ass there and then it’s in the net.

“So it was just a weird few seconds there.”

The goal reduced Boston’s lead to 2-1 and was part of wild first period that also saw Boone Jenner get free for two short-handed breakaways — one of which resulted in a penalty shot that Rask denied with his blocker.

It could easily have been a turning point given how precious goals are in an air-tight series that now sits at 2-2. But Rask stood tall, slamming the door shut for the final 51:14 to improve his save percentage to a sterling .933 in these playoffs.

“We need him to be our rock,” said McAvoy.

There’s been an ongoing dialogue among NHL decision-makers about expanding video review to avoid mistakes like the one made here Thursday. At the GMs Meeting in March, hockey operations boss Colin Campbell asked the room for ideas on how they could best avoid the kind of blown call the NFL dealt with in its most recent NFC Championship game, when a blatant pass interference call was missed that allowed the Los Angeles Rams to advance to the Super Bowl rather than the New Orleans Saints.

However, there was no consensus on exactly what else should be made reviewable — presently only offsides and goaltender interference can be challenged by a coach after goals — and there’s little appetite for bogging the game down any more than it already is.

Perhaps that view will change is if a big play is fumbled later in this post-season. The Bruins were certainly cognizant of how easily things might have gotten away from them after the phantom goal in Game 4.

“I’m sure it would be heartbreaking and I’m sure it would be all over the place right now,” said McAvoy. “It’s easy to lose your composure when something like that happens. Credit to us for staying with it, realizing that there was a whole lot of hockey left to play and getting back in and playing our game.”

Rask was simply relieved that he didn’t find out exactly what happened until after the final buzzer.

“If I saw it [hit the netting], then I would have probably slammed the stick and chased the refs,” he said. “It’s a little better I didn’t see it.”

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