Goaltender Interference Rule Needs Consistency

The New York Rangers have the best road record in the NHL at 26-9-0. Perhaps it would be 27-8-0 if they hadn’t been victimized by a horrible non-goalie interference call in a March 9 contest against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.

The incident highlighted the flaws in the NHL’s definition of goaltender interference, as there are too many gray areas, and as a result, no consistency.

Wrong Call in Carolina

In that game against the Hurricanes, the Rangers blew a 3-2 third-period lead and ultimately fell by a score of 4-3. Sebastian Aho scored two power-play goals for the Hurricanes in the final frame to give them the victory.

The tying goal, however, featured a great deal of controversy. Aho blasted a one-timer from just inside the blue line that beat Rangers goalie Antti Raanta through a screen. That screen, courtesy of Carolina’s Elias Lindholm, should have been deemed illegal.

Lindholm’s elbow came up and hit the plastic neck protector on Raanta’s mask. That in turn pushed the mask up, impeding Raanta’s vision and ability to make the save right before Aho’s shot crossed the goal line.

Don’t let the commentary from the Carolina broadcast influence you – Raanta did not initiate the contact that pushed his mask up. It was Lindholm’s elbow. Even though it was likely inadvertent, it should have been more than enough to constitute a goaltender interference call.

The explanation the referees gave Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault—which at least had more substance than the vague explanation from the Situation Room video above—was that Raanta was outside the crease. His feet were clearly in the crease, but his head was just outside, which the officials used as justification to nullify any potential interference call.

That reasoning creates too much of a gray area on interference calls. The definition of being in the crease should be based on something more clear – i.e., where the goaltender’s feet are. Furthermore, waving off interference because a goalie’s head is outside the crease really limits the goalie to playing incredibly deep in his net, which is unreasonable.

If a goalie is standing in the blue, he should be considered to be in the blue. End of story. Between that and the fact that Lindholm initiated the contact with Raanta’s mask, the goal should have been waved off without question.

Lack of Consistency

What makes the call that went against the Rangers in Carolina even worse is that they were the victims of an eerily similar situation last season as the offensive team.

On Feb. 21, 2016, against the Detroit Red Wings at home, Kevin Hayes scored an apparent goal in the third period, but it was eventually called back because of goaltender interference. Oscar Lindberg tripped and his skate inadvertently came up and hit goalie Jimmy Howard’s mask, pushing it up and hindering his ability to stop Hayes’ shot.

Howard’s feet were clearly in the crease, but his head appears as though it might have been just outside. In any event, it again makes more sense to judge by where his feet are, as it’s more clear.

In this case, the right call was made. Upon the Red Wings’ challenge, the goal was waved off because of goaltender interference. In essentially the same situation a year later, the wrong call was made. The Rangers found themselves on the short end both times.

In addition to using a more clear definition for what counts as a goaltender being in the crease, the NHL should also provide more detailed explanations in its official review videos. Simply saying something like, “the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line,” as happened with the Hurricanes’ goal, does not provide enough detail. The reasons should be clearly stated, with the rules being black and white. That will lead to more consistency and less controversy.

In Game 2 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings scored a critical third-period goal against the Rangers that was upheld despite Dwight King’s interference. Months later, the league announced that the goal should not have counted.

As bad as that was for the Rangers, it’s even worse that the league still hasn’t been able to make consistently correct calls on goalie interference situations despite the implementation of coach’s challenges and expanded reviews since then. There are simple steps for the league to take to address these situations. Hopefully, it will do so soon.