A late goal by the Chicago Blackhawks was waved off after an apparent hand pass in the neutral zone.
Hawks defenseman Olli Maatta was tripped by Boston’s Torey Krug. Maatta pushed the puck ahead, where it was scooped up by winger Drake Caggiula and fired past Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak to give Chicago a 2-1 lead with just over a minute remaining.
Referee Peter MacDougall immediately waved off the goal. His partner in stripes, veteran referee Steve Kozari, had already blown the whistle to stop play for the hand pass.
It’s tough to hear over the crowd noise in the clip, but you can clearly see the Bruins skaters – Torey Krug and David Pastrnak – ease up on the play after hearing the whistle
“We heard the whistle on the bench,” Cassidy said, via NHL.com. “So if they’d have counted it, I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ There was definitely a whistle.”
Whether or not the whistle should’ve blown was the Blackhawks’ issue.
“They made a mistake, [they] blew the whistle,” said Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. “Not much you can say after that. It’s done.”
Video replays showed that Maatta’s stick may have grazed the puck, though that wouldn’t necessarily have negated the hand pass. Here’s the rule book:
79.1 Hand Pass – A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the on-ice officials, he has directed the puck to a teammate, or has allowed his team to gain an advantage, and subsequently possession and control of the puck is obtained by a player of the offending team, either directly or deflected off any player or official.
If Maatta pushes the puck, then plays it with his stick, it’s a legal play. Whether or not mere contact with the stick is enough to play on, well, that’s a different story. There’s also the issue around ‘gaining an advantage’ as a result of the hand pass that’s up to the officials’ interpretation of the rule.
The NHL defended the call made by the officials. From NBCSports:
Having reviewed the play, our Officiating Department is certain that the on-ice officials got the call right. [Olli] Maatta redirected the puck with his glove, giving his team an advantage in a zone other than the defensive zone — which is how a hand pass is defined in the Rule Book.
While it is difficult to determine whether the puck hit his stick before it went to a teammate, that is not relevant. Possession and control by the same player who made the hand pass is required to nullify the hand pass — not just a deflection off that player’s stick.
The whistle could have been blown earlier and a better announcement made, but neither change whether the call was correct.
It’s interesting to note that the league mentioned the announcement of the call, as no explanation was given on the ice. More detailed explanations are something we’ve talked about on the Scouting the Refs podcast as an opportunity for the league to better educate everyone on why certain calls were made. This was certainly one of those situations where some additional detail would’ve been helpful.
It’s worth noting that this play was not eligible for Coach’s Challenge or video review. Furthermore, once the whistle was blown, the play was dead. There’s no going back after that.
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) February 6, 2020
It’s a tough call, especially given the significance of the possible goal late in a tied game. It’s one thing to disagree with the call, but it’s another when broadcasters, players, and even coaches don’t understand the rule in question or why the call was made.
Hopefully the league can learn from this when it comes to explanations, and perhaps in clarity of how the rules are written. As it stands, though, the league is standing by their officials — and the call on the ice.