In the final minute of a one-goal game, P.K. Subban pushed the Montreal goal cage off its moorings. There’s no question of that.

The Bruins, their netminder pulled for an extra attacker, were pressuring deep in the Canadiens’ zone. With the net dislodged, the whistle blew, giving the Habs a chance to regroup. So why wasn’t that a penalty?

The NHL rulebook is very clear on this particular situation. Here’s Rule 63.2:

A minor penalty shall be imposed on any player who delays the game by deliberately displacing a goal post from its normal position.

The Referee shall stop play immediately when the offending team gains possession of the puck. In the event that a goalpost is deliberately displaced by a defending player, prior to the puck crossing the goal line between the normal position of the goalposts, the Referee shall assess a minor penalty for delaying the game if the attacking player has not yet taken the shot or in the act of taking the shot at the open net.

And Rule 63.5:

If by reason of insufficient time in the regular playing time or by reason of penalties already imposed, the minor penalty assessed to a player for deliberately displacing his own goal post cannot be served in its entirety within the regular playing time of the game or at any time in overtime, a penalty shot shall be awarded against the offending team.

Push the net off the pegs during the first 58 minutes and it’s a minor penalty. Push the goal off in the final 120 seconds, and it’s a penalty shot.

So the sentence – a penalty shot – is clear. But what about the determination on whether it’s a penalty? It all comes down to the referee’s judgment of intent.

If the player intentionally displaced the net, it’s a penalty shot. If it was accidental, there’s no call on the play. On this play, I think it’s hard to make a case for a deliberate push. More than anything, it looked like a moment of indeciseveness on his path to the puck that put Subban in a position to have to dodge the goalpost. He realized he was out of room and tried to brace himself for the impact, knocking the net off its moorings.

Here’s Kerry Fraser’s take, via his ‘C’mon Ref’ column over at TSN:

Subban recognized he had little time to get to the puck and make a play in advance of the Bruins attack and in the essence of time cut as closely to the goal post as possible. Just prior to contact with the post Subban elevated his shoulder and changed his posture in what appears to be a minimal effort to avoid the post. Given the hard cut that he was making contact with the post became accidental and not deliberate. I don’t even believe this was an “accidentally on purpose” moment for PK Subban as his intent was to get to the puck as quickly as he could to make a play.

For the referee to assess a penalty shot on this play there had to be absolutely no doubt in his mind that PK Subban’s intent was to deliberately displace the goal post. More than reasonable doubt was created.

To their credit, the Bruins weren’t contesting the call after the game:

“He’s playing the clock, and he’s trying to make something happen,” said Patrice Bergeon. “Maybe he felt that we were coming hard. You’ve got to leave it to the refs, and they didn’t make the call. It’s about bearing down and starting a lot earlier to make it a game.”

“After [Subban] rimmed the puck, Torey [Krug] got the puck and he found me. I had so much room in front of me, I could have walked in. You never know what can happen with eight to 10 seconds left,” David Krejci said to ESPN. “It was frustrating at the time, but I don’t know if that was a penalty or not.”

It was an uncharacteristically quiet performance by Tim Peel and Chris Rooney. The normally whistle-friendly duo – Rooney led all officials in regular season minor penalties – focused on game flow and let the players hash it out on the ice.  Of their combined 146 regular season games worked, only 10 saw fewer penalties than they called last night.

Of course, given Claude Julien’s and Michel Therrien’s recent comments on officiating, both teams may have also been on their best behavior so as not to draw the attention of the men in stripes.  Referees for the game were Tim Peel and Chris Rooney.

Game 4 is set for Thursday. We’ll see what the next game’s officiating crew has in store.

(For what it’s worth, my money’s on the veteran pair of O’Halloran and Sutherland to work Game 4.)

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