Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck won Friday’s game in Dallas, but he was more fired up about what he lost: his mask.

Hellebuyck allowed the game-tying goal with 19.1 seconds remaining in the third period.  Of course, it’s hard to blame the guy. He was lying face-down and helmetless in the crease, having just been run over by two players.

Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn was driving to the net with the puck, when he was bumped by Jets blueliner Josh Morrissey and shoved right into the Winnipeg goaltender.  Hellebuyck, who lost his mask in the collision, remained down on the ice as play continued.   Dallas moved the puck over to winger Jason Robertson, who scored to tie the game at 4-4.

The NHL’s Situation Room reviewed the play — not for the lost mask, but for the goaltender interference that knocked it off. After ruling that the contact between Benn and Hellebuyck came as a result of the push by Morrissey, the goal was allowed to stand.

Hellebuyck discussed the play after the game.

“I made a save, I’m in the crease, I’d leaned maybe a hair outside the crease, but my weight was in the crease. [Benn] was coming right by my face. Maybe he wasn’t going to hit me, but he was close enough where any play on him forced him into my head. I think Josh [Morrissey] did hit him. I don’t know how hard he hit him …  but the amount of force that went into my head was very scary. … The force that went into my head is a no-brainer for me that needs to get blown dead and looked at.”

Let’s circle back to the fact that there would have been no contact if Morrissey doesn’t initiate a hit on this play — a hit right into his own goaltender.  Defenseman really need to stop hitting guys into their goalies. It happens far too often.

It’s also worth noting that, despite the ‘amount of force’, Hellebuyck was not pulled off the ice and into the league’s concussion protocol – especially since he remained down on the ice, which is one of their assessment criteria.

“I didn’t know if I could get up.  The way the play goes, they’re expecting me to get up, go to the post, and then square up to a point shot? For me, that’s just way too long, and no one’s going to do that with no mask on.  We don’t want any goalie in this league, we don’t want that for us, we don’t want to see that anywhere in this league, so the fact that it happened last night is very eye-opening and hopefully we can better and get this rule changed.”

Before we talk changes, let’s crack open the book.  Rule 9.6 covers helmets.

When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask.

When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee.

Hellebuyck doesn’t think the current rule goes far enough.

“When a goalie’s mask is knocked off or comes off, if it’s not an immediate – and I mean, like puck’s going in, getting tapped in, that whistle needs to be blown.  Just like a player who loses his helmet has to go to the bench. He’s allowed to finish the motion of the play, but he has to go to the bench. The same thing should apply for a goalie.”

Two thoughts.  First, the player doesn’t have to go to the bench. He can put his helmet back on and remain on the ice.  Second, that the game continues around him; there’s no whistle.  A player who wants to create a stoppage in play because the opposing team is pressuring in the attacking zone would gain no benefit from removing his own helmet. A goalie who knows it’s an automatic whistle…  well, let’s just say we’ve seen that film before.

Hellebuyck also challenged the immediacy of the shot, which came about four seconds after the hit.

“There was no immediate scoring chance after that. There was two passes made and a shot from the point. … That puck needs to be going in the net, or on its way into into the net, or a guy is in the act of finishing a puck on the net, and that was none of that.”

It’s interesting to note that the NHL recently changed the rule regarding goals scored on displaced nets.  Previously, the player had to be in the act of shooting or have already shot the puck for a goal to count when the net was knocked off. That was modified to allow for an ‘imminent and impending’ scoring chance.  Given that the league has adopted the more permissive language in that rule, it’d be surprising to see them hit Hellebuyck’s recommended level of specificity on any changes to the one regarding lost goalie masks.

“Those refs made a mistake. but i feel that the rule needs to change so that the war room and the refs have the opportunity to realize that they made a mistake. They put me in danger.  A lot of bad things that could have came from that. Plain and simple, when a goalie’s mask gets knocked off, the play needs to get blown dead.”

The refs called Rule 9.6 by the book.  Winnipeg didn’t have possession, the Stars had an immediate scoring opportunity – which, admittedly, is a judgment call, but it doesn’t need to be instantaneous.  The Situation Room can only review the interference, not a discretionary stoppage by the officials.

What about an injury? That’s under Rule 8.1:

When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured control of the puck. If the player’s team is in control of the puck at the time of injury, play shall be stopped immediately unless his team is in a scoring position.

In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a serious injury, the Referee and/or Linesman may stop the play immediately.

Once again, we’re looking at which team is in control of the puck.  Hellebuyck clearly hadn’t sustained a serious injury, so the officials were correct not to stop play under 8.1.

Hellebuyck is free to focus on rewriting the rule book, but he may want to hold off from throwing the officials under the bus.  He didn’t, though.

“We talked about it [at the last Competition Committee] meeting – how we need to protect the goalies’ heads and how we’re getting hit there and nothing’s being done about it.”

“The refs are supposed to be looking for it. Obviously, I’ve said the refs made a mistake. It’s okay. All we need is for them to honor that mistake, or even in game, when they all talk together instead of saying ‘Okay, we made a mistake, it’s a goal,’ [they should] let the War Room take care of it because that’s kind of what sometimes they do.”

Wait, what?  The goaltender who is part of the league’s Competition Committee and is suggesting rule changes thinks that the officials sometimes ‘kind of’ leave it up to the Situation Room?

Perhaps Hellebuyck’s not clear on what’s eligible for review, or the clear separation of duties between the two. Perhaps he’s still a little woozy from that hit.

“They need to be able to get together and be like, okay this is the actual way we need to call this.   What I would like to see happen is if that puck’s not on its way into the net or in the crease with a guy finishing in the net, play gets called dead.”

“That’s immediate.  I think the rule needs to be changed where the war room says, okay that play needed to be blown dead.”

And now he wants the Situation Room to retroactively decide when the whistle should’ve blown.

Back to the rule book, 9.6 also covers penalties for goalies removing their masks:

When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delay of game.

Montreal’s Jake Allen was penalized for removing his mask against the Carolina Hurricanes in March. The Blues’ Jordan Binnington was called for it earlier in the same season, tossing his mask to get the attention of the officials an a stoppage in play — which he did, along with a minor penalty.

Both of those cases involved a goaltender who was active, mobile, and still participating in the play.

Still, if Hellebuyck’s concern is safety, were Allen and Binnington adequately protected by their damaged masks?  Once the straps are no longer secure, is that also creating a hazard for netminders?

Hellebuyck’s frustrated.  He’s concerned for his safety. Honestly, he’s right to be. No goaltender wants pucks shot at them without a mask.  There’s a reason it’s been 48 years since an NHL goalie took the ice helmetless.

The league absolutely needs to protect goaltenders.  Maybe, to Jackson’s point above, some technological advancements can help keep masks on.  We’ve seen goaltenders penalized for removing them, but we’ve seen far more shake them off to draw a whistle without picking up a penalty. (Braden Holtby, we’re looking at you, among others.)  Heck, look what Toronto’s Matt Murray has been doing with his goalposts.  It becomes a challenge to have the officials not only arbitrate what they see, but to make assessments when it comes to intent.

Those are the calls that tend to be the most controversial, the ones that draw the greatest ire.  The ones that get the game-winning goaltender fired up the following morning to fault the refs and try to change the rules.

Finding that balance between protecting the goalies and not rewarding those who take advantage of those very same rules can be tricky.

Until then, we may have to see more of what Florida’s Spencer Knight was forced to do yesterday: make a save without his mask