Goals have been hard to come by in the second round series between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers. On Friday, the Caps thought they’d scored the all-important first goal of the game.  Referee Kevin Pollock disagreed.

With 2:09 to play in the second period, a shot from Matt Niskanen deflected off Joel Ward and past Lundqvist. Pollock, who was right on top of the play, immediately waved off the apparent goal based on the incidental contact between Lundqvist and Ward. 

Rule 69.1, Goaltender Interference, covers this:

Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgement of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.

The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

The Capitals argued that Ward did not initiate contact, but that Rangers center Derek Stepan pushed Ward into the crease.

“We felt that obviously [Ward] was pushed in,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They made the call and that was it. We just deal with it and move on.”


Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist talked about how Ward impeded his ability to play his position. He did not, however, comment on how Ward got there.

“It’s impossible for me to find the puck when I have a guy on top of me like that,” he said. “I think it was the right call.” 

Officiating supervisor Rob Shick, the manager charged with overseeing the series, supported the call on the ice. “The goaltender wasn’t allowed to play his position in the crease,” Shick said. “Incidental contact [by Ward]. I support the call. Results in no goal, no penalty.”

Listen to the officials discuss the Ward call on the ice.

The NBC Sports Network crew agreed.  Both Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick thought referee Kevin Pollock made the right call. “The referee was in great position to make the call,” said Jones. “The Capitals have to continue to play that way — to get to the net. Joel Ward did a great job to provide a screen in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Unfortunately for the Capitals, there is contact. Ward, in front, is kind of bumped slightly by the defender of the New York Rangers. Lundqvist is not able to make a play to make the save.”

“I think it was the final turn by Ward,” added Roenick. “He turned his body and made contact as the puck came in. I agree with Jonesy; it is the right call, especially in such a close game. You don’t want to have something that’s going to be controversial to decide this game. It’s probably going to be a lucky goal, but, still, you want this to go out evenly.”

The Capitals would ultimately get the game’s first goal in the third. The Rangers rallied to tie the game with the goaltender pulled before winning in overtime.