Toronto’s Roman Polak was ejected from Wednesday night’s game for a dangerous hit on Columbus Blue Jackets winger Oliver Bjorkstrand.
With a five-minute major on the board and Polak off to the locker room, the Leafs needed someone to serve the penalty. Nobody did.
While unusual, it’s permitted under the rules. There are, as Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock found out, certain risks to that approach.
From Rule 20.3:
When a player has been assessed a major penalty and has been removed from the game or is injured, the offending team does not have to place a substitute player on the penalty bench immediately, but must do so at a stoppage of play prior to the expiration of the major penalty. He may then legally exit the penalty bench when the major penalty has expired. If the player has been assessed minor penalties in addition to the major penalty that must also be served on the penalty time clock, the offending team must place a substitute on the penalty bench immediately.
Failure to place a player on the penalty bench prior to the expiration of the major penalty will result in that team having to continue playing one player short (but not officially considered shorthanded) until the next stoppage of play. Any replacement player who enters the game other than from the penalty bench shall constitute an illegal substitution under Rule 68 – Illegal Substitution calling for a bench minor penalty.
Furthermore, if the team fails to place a player on the penalty bench to return to the ice at the end of the major penalty, they continue to play short-handed but are not permitted to ice the puck as they are no longer short-handed by reason of a penalty.
With no one in the box, there was no one to come out when time expired. The Maple Leafs continued to play 5-on-4 for nearly two extra minutes.
All Toronto needed was a stoppage in play to replace the missing skater. They couldn’t get one.
Their attempts to ice the puck were foiled by Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and Rule 81.2:
If, in the opinion of the Linesman, the goalkeeper feigns playing the puck, attempts to play the puck, or skates in the direction of the puck on an icing at any time, the potential icing shall not be called and play shall continue.
Each time the puck came down the ice, Korpisalo appeared to be headed out to play the puck — just enough to nullify the icing.
After the game, Leafs coach Mike Babcock talked about the lack of time served.
“We laughed on the bench, but it’s all my fault,” said Babcock. “Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s me and you’ve got two assistants on the bench, two in the video room, and 15 players sitting on the bench and we can’t get that done right? Often it happens and you just fire a guy in [before the penalty expires] but obviously it went the whole time and we didn’t do anything about it.”
“In hindsight, if that had cost you, it’d be terrible. That will never happen in my lifetime again. I’ll never wait to put a guy in [to the penalty box] or any of that. ‘You’re going, whether you like it or not!’”
The Leafs went on to win the game 5-2. Columbus went 0-for-1 on their five-minute — well, more like seven-minute — man advantage.