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Caps give up game-winning goal because of NHL's vague possession rule

Caps give up game-winning goal because of NHL's vague possession rule

Sports leagues work very hard to eliminate grey areas from the rule books in order to avoid instances like what happened between the Caps and Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

In the third period of a tie game, the Caps were awaiting a delayed penalty on Tom Wilson. As the offending team, that means the next time they took possession of the puck, the play would be called dead and the penalty would be assessed to Wilson.

But what is possession? That is one of the remaining grey areas in the NHL and it cost the Caps dearly.

RELATED: 4 reasons the Caps lost to the Hurricanes

While on the attack, Carolina’s Justin Faulk fired a shot on Braden Holtby. Holtby made the initial save and the rebound bounced into the air and back out to the slot. Defenseman Brooks Orpik tried to bat the puck out of the air and clearly made contact with it, but the play was allowed to continue. The puck bounced to Victor Rask who shot what would be the game-winning goal past Holtby.

You can see the play here.

“[The referees] didn't really want to give us an explanation and they moved on from it pretty quickly, but a lot of us were pretty frustrated with it,” Orpik said.

There is no real answer in the NHL rules as to what qualifies possession so it is left to the discretion of the referees. In this case, they allowed play to continue.

From their standpoint, however, the Caps were assuming the play would be called dead and that led to hesitation that may well have cost them the goal.

“Probably we hesitated for a half second,” Holtby said. “That's a play where I thought everyone thought it was going to be blown down.”

The question is whether or not the play should have been whistled when Orpik touches the puck.

“That's the whole question of possession and I think intentionally whacking a puck is possession because you're directing it,” Matt Niskanen said after the game. “Now if you're just tipping a pass, that's not possession.”

Orpik had an interesting argument as to why the play should have qualified as possession.

“If I make that same play and it goes over the glass, that's a delay of game penalty for sure. If that's a delay of game penalty then I think you have to call that possession. That was the argument we had and they didn't really give us any clarification.”

“That one's tough because it's in the air and the rule can't sort of go both ways so technically that would be control,” Trotz said. “It just doesn't look like control.”

Trotz also said he intended to ask the league for clarification. Whatever explanation he may get, however, it won’t change the outcome or the frustration the team feels after getting burned by a rule that no one seems to really understand.

Said Orpik, “We all were confused by it and frustrated by it especially when that winds up being the winning goal.”

More Capitals: Capitals sound off on John Carlson's All-Star snub

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

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