Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray was nearly flawless in a 27-save shutout to claim victory in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday.
Only one puck got past him, but the goal was disallowed after a quick whistle from referee Kevin Pollock.
Racing down the left wing, Preds forward Filip Forsberg fired a shot on goal. The puck slid through Murray’s pads and was loose in the crease. Nashville’s Colton Sissons pushed the puck over the line for an easy goal and a 1-0 lead.
The goal, though, was immediately waved off by Pollock.
Pollock, positioned in the far corner, lost sight of the puck during the initial save and blew his whistle. It’s likely he thought the puck had been trapped by Murray. The goaltender, as well as teammate Trevor Daley and Forsberg who continued skating into the corner, blocked Pollock’s vision of the puck sitting out in the open.
With Pollock having blown the whistle — or, technically, even before then, at the moment he decided to blow the whistle — the play was dead.
From Rule 78.5:
Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee and the appropriate announcement made by the Public Address Announcer for the following reasons: (xii) When the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle.
The rule book requires a referee to blow the whistle to stop play when he loses sight of the puck.
85.3 Puck Out of Sight – Should a scramble take place or a player accidentally fall on the puck and the puck be out of sight of the Referee, he shall immediately blow his whistle and stop the play. The puck shall then be faced-off at the nearest face-off spot in the zone where the play was stopped unless otherwise provided for in the rules.
Nashville could not challenge the call on the ice. Only goaltender interference and potential offside plays are eligible for a Coach’s Challenge. There is, however, a situation where a quick whistle could be reviewed by the NHL’s Situation Room under Rule 38.4:
(viii) The video review process shall be permitted to assist the Referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals (e.g. to ensure they are “good hockey goals”). For example (but not limited to), pucks that enter the net by going through the net meshing, pucks that enter the net from underneath the net frame, pucks that hit the spectator netting prior to being directed immediately into the goal, pucks that enter the net undetected by the Referee, etc.
This would also include situations whereby the Referee stops play or is in the process of stopping the play because he has lost sight of the puck and it is subsequently determined by video review that the puck crosses (or has crossed) the goal line and enters the net as the culmination of a continuous play where the result was unaffected by the whistle (i.e., the timing of the whistle was irrelevant to the puck entering the net at the end of a continuous play).
The ‘continuous play’ part of that rule is important. Had the puck trickled directly into the net, there may have been a case for review. The shot from Sissons, though, appeared to come after the whistle sounded, which would make this not a continuous play and therefore ineligible for review.
This has happened before, including one disallowed goal that saw the Ottawa Senators eliminated from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It was a pretty quick whistle,” said Nashville’s Colton Sissons, of his disallowed game-opening goal. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”
The Preds winger said that referee Kevin Pollock apologized to him after the game, according to the Associated Press.
“Every one of of us makes mistakes. So do the refs. Tonight, that was a tough one,” said Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. “[Murray] didn’t have it for a second and I know [the referee] lost the eyesight. Like I said, we all make mistakes.”
Nashville Predators captain Mike Fisher was understanding, acknowledging that, yes, refs are human.
“It’s tough, but that’s sports,” Fisher told the Tenneseean. “There’s human error in every sport. That’s the way it goes sometimes, and we can’t control that unfortunately. I know that that happens, and I’m sure the ref feels bad about it, but what do you do?”
Coach Peter Laviolette opted not to discuss the call, but did concede that the disallowed goal made the end result – a 2-0 loss – tougher to swallow.
“You can discuss that all you want. Obviously 1-0 is better than a tight game. I think it should have been a goal but at the same time you can’t do anything about it,” Forsberg said.
Defenseman Ryan Ellis called the whistle “disappointing, to say the least.”
Despite four power play opportunities, including a 5-on-3, the Predators weren’t able to solve Murray again.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate. What are you going to do? It’s over and done with. At the end of the day there’s got to be a winner and a loser. It just sucks that we’re on the losing side of it,” said Nashville’s P.K. Subban.
Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist – a 2005 Predators draft pick – posted the game-winner with 1:35 remaining, claiming the Stanley Cup for the Penguins.
Nashville had another goal taken off the board in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan successfully challenged a P.K. Subban goal for being offside.