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.

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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.”

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