Don’t expect NHL to find simple solution for missed hand-pass goals, goals off netting

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask proved wise analyst and accurate forecaster in the aftermath of Boston’s 4-1 Game 4 win at the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference second round earlier this month.

The Blue Jackets scored their lone goal that night off the stick of forward Artemi Panarin moments after the puck had deflected off the protective netting over the end glass to Oliver Bjorkstrand. The play should’ve been whistled dead, but none of the four officials saw the puck hit the netting and the play was not reviewable because it did not go directly into the net off the netting.

“What if that’s in overtime?” Rask said after the game.

That game was the first win in the Bruins’ six-game winning streak that has them up 3-0 in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference final heading into Game 4 on Thursday.

Well now we know what happens if “that’s in overtime.” But instead of a deflected puck going off the netting turning into a goal, this time it’s a hand pass. Clear as day you can see San Jose forward Timo Meier batting a puck out of the air with his glove to Gustav Nyquist, who set up Erik Karlsson’s game-winning goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference final on Wednesday. The Sharks now lead that series 2-1.

Considering the magnitude of that goal, the Blues argued more vociferously than the Bruins for justice in the immediate aftermath of the play. But like Panarin’s goal, Karlsson’s wasn’t reviewable because the puck didn’t go directly into the goal after the missed violation.

One would think that a league that spends an inordinate amount of time determining if a player’s skate blade is one inch offside on a break-in, even if a goal is scored 40, 50, 60 seconds later, would have a remedy for situations like what happed in St. Louis. Of course, you’d be wrong.

And don’t expect an easy solution to come from the NHL general managers or rules committee when this season is complete and they get down to fixing the game. There’s going to be a lot of debate about it, as Bruins general manager Don Sweeney explained days after the Panarin goal.

“Yeah, again, the genesis and the discussions that took place were a little bit in line with what happens on an offside,” Sweeney responded to a question about what should happen when a goal like Panarin’s is scored. “How far do you roll it back and such? And I would ask the question if it goes off the net and the other team goes down and scores, do you take the goal away?”

The offside challenge is available to teams as long as the puck isn’t cleared out of the zone. Conceivably a team could score 15 minutes after a break-in and the goal could come off the board if the puck never left the attacking zone and the team that allowed the goal calls for an offside challenge.

So what Sweeney’s pointing out about inevitable debate on these matters is what happens if instead of Karlsson scoring his shot is stopped and the Sharks continue to grind down the Blues for 30 seconds before scoring? In the case of the Panarin goal, what if the Bruins played the puck off the netting and scored on an ensuing breakaway?

Sweeney later said: “I think I walked out of the game to be honest … thankful it didn’t affect the outcome of the game.”

Unfortunately for the Blues, they had no reason to be thankful. And this could have been avoided had the NHL reacted to Panarin’s goal by altering the rules. There’s a precedent for changing rules on the fly during the playoffs because that’s how we got the “Sean Avery Rule” in 2008 after Avery decided to face goalie Martin Brodeur while screening him.

Now one has to ask the obvious follow-up to Rask’s question: never mind overtime, what happens if this happens on a goal that determines the Stanley Cup?

Don’t expect a simple answer any time soon.