CAPITAL ONE ARENA – Evgeny Kuznetsov celebrated as if he had put the Capitals up 2-0 on Friday against the Buffalo Sabres, but any celebration from the red-clad fans at Capital One Arena was muted as the goal was immediately waved off.
It looked initially like the goal was disallowed just by the narrowest of margins, which would have opened up a flood of criticism following the game had Buffalo been able to come back and win. Based on the NHL’s explanation afterward, however, it ultimately did not matter if the puck had crossed the goal line or not.
After the Caps took a 1-0 lead over Buffalo in the second period, it looked like Kuznetsov had extended their lead to two goals as he tucked a puck into the stretched pads of goalie Carter Hutton and the puck just barely squeaked through onto the goal line.
As it began trickling over the line, the Caps celebrated what they thought was their second goal of the game. The referee, however, who was standing behind the net immediately waved it off as no goal.
Kuznetsov, who thought he had just scored his first goal since Dec. 2, was incredulous and argued over the call. The referee skated over to the booth and talked things over with the Situation Room in Toronto before announcing to the disbelieving Caps faithful that the call on the ice stood.
hmmm.... 🤔 pic.twitter.com/zsB8wrV2dM— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) December 22, 2018
As angry as he appeared to be during the game, however, Kuznetsov took the high road afterward.
“It’s hard to see for me, but they have so many cameras so I always believe them,” Kuznetsov said. “Next time I will put more juice on that puck for sure.”
As you can see from above, it is very close as to whether the puck actually crossed or not. It either just crossed over the goal line or just stayed on. It is very hard to tell…and also irrelevant.
The goal was waved off not because the referee decided it had not crossed yet, but because of a unique NHL rule often referred to as “intent to blow.”
After the goal was disallowed, the NHL released a statement explaining the decision.
At 8:10 of the second period in the Sabres/Capitals game, the Situation Room initiated a video review to further examine a play at the Buffalo net. The Referee informed the Situation Room that he blew his whistle to stop play when he lost sight of the puck as it laid on the goal line. The decision was made in accordance of Rule 31.2 which states, in part, that "the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening." This is not a reviewable play, therefore the Referee's call on the ice stands - no goal Washington Capitals.
In hockey, a play is not dead when the whistle blows, it actually is considered to be over when the referee determines the play is dead. A referee is instructed to blow a play dead when a goalie covers up the puck and the referee loses sight of it. The moment he decides to blow the whistle, the play is over. Whatever happens from that point on until when he actually blows the whistle is immaterial.
There was no actual review of the goal and no ruling on whether the puck actually crossed the line because the play is not reviewable. It was simply determined to be no goal because the referee lost sight of the puck under Hutton and decided the play was dead before the puck squeaked through.
“Intent to blow” is often a frustrating concept for fans to grasp as there is no other sport that determines a play to be over before a whistle or buzzer sounds. The call was not an insignificant one on Friday and could easily have changed the trajectory of the game. It kept the score at 1-0 and Buffalo was able to tie it at 1 in the third period.
Kuznetsov would ultimately get the last laugh, however, as he stole the puck away from goalie Carter Hutton in the third period to set up Tom Wilson for the game-winning goal. That goal, there was no disputing.
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