You know there has been an astonishing interpretation of the NHL rule book when the most shocking thing about the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout win Sunday against the Dallas Stars was not Vancouver winger Tim Schaller scoring twice. Or the Canucks winning.
Frequently scratched, Schaller hadn’t scored a goal in 36 games since the Canucks signed him to an ill-advised two-year, $3.8-million free-agent contract last July. In five professional seasons, Schaller had never scored twice in an NHL game. Based on this body of work, we’re going to predict he never will again.
But whenever Vancouver fans think of Sunday’s game, it won’t be for Schaller scoring a deuce or Josh Leivo sniping the shootout winner. It will be for rookie Elias Pettersson being denied a second-period goal when Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin foiled Pettersson on a second-period penalty shot by throwing his stick straight into the Swede’s feet.
Despite clear wording in the NHL rulebook that a goal should have been awarded automatically on Khudobin’s stick toss, referees Justin St. Pierre and Tim Peel, positioned on each side of the net with unobstructed side views of the play, called nothing except a save.
When Canucks coach Travis Green, after watching replays, disbelievingly asked St. Pierre before the ensuing faceoff why it wasn’t a goal, the referee shrugged and made a motion with his hand apparently demonstrating that Khudobin poke-checked Pettersson.
Before we proceed further, let’s make something clear: the Canucks are not going to the playoffs, haven’t won enough games to deserve to go, and are again in garbage time when blown calls – for and against them – hardly matter.
But blown calls should matter to the NHL, and this one was embarrassing. Not quite as embarrassing as former referee Denis Morel allowing Winnipeg Jet Nelson Emerson to catch a puck behind the Chicago net, carry it to the post and drop it with his hand over the goal-line for a game-winning goal during the 1993 season. But it wasn’t far off.
Pettersson’s goal would have made it 3-0 for the Canucks. Instead, the score remained 2-0 due to Schaller’s immaculate night, which allowed the Stars to get to overtime when Vancouver blew its lead over the final 21 minutes of regulation time.
Again, big picture, the call doesn’t really matter to the Canucks, except maybe to Pettersson, whose goal would have allowed him to break Pavel Bure’s franchise record for points by a rookie, set at 60 by the Russian Rocket in 1992.
But the penalty shot sure as heck mattered to the St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche – the teams the Stars are battling in the Western Conference standings as Dallas desperately tries to hang on to a playoff position.
The extra point the Stars were awarded could make the difference between Dallas getting into the playoffs or missing out completely.
NHL Rule 24.4 states: “The goaltender may attempt the stop the puck in any manner except by throwing his stick or any object.”
There doesn’t seem to be much grey area in that rule. So what happened on the ice when St. Pierre and Peel clearly had no idea what had occurred? Nothing. The NHL war room in Toronto did not phone.
And yet, oddly, only two weeks earlier, the NHL buzzed down to the penalty box when Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin was denied what also should have been an obvious shootout winner after New York Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev blatantly heaved his stick while getting beaten on a deke.
Officials in that game were summoned to the penalty box, watched a replay and called a goal. They got it right. It’s alarming they did not call it correctly the first time. But in the end, they got the call right.
Sunday, Peel and St. Pierre appeared to get it incomprehensibly wrong. The NHL did not correct them. The playoffs start in three weeks. Good luck, everyone.