NEW YORK — Maybe it all would have been different had Dwight King not planted himself in Henrik Lundqvist’s crease (and on Lundqvist’s shoulder) and scored the game-turning goal Saturday night in Los Angeles. Maybe the New York Rangers would have held on to win Game 2, and maybe they would have had some momentum going into Game 3, which maybe would have gone a lot differently than it did on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Or maybe not.
After watching Jonathan Quick and the Kings take a 3-0 stranglehold on the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night with a 3-0 victory, Rangers fans probably will be debating it deep into the summer. Not that the NHL is planning to do much about preventing such controversies in the future.
Just like everybody else in the hockey world had done two nights earlier, the NHL’s competition committee — players, general managers and executives — watched on Wednesday the video of King’s Game 2 goal, which sparked a Kings’ comeback and a double-overtime victory. They saw it from every angle, in high-definition, in super slow-motion. They saw Ryan McDonagh and King get tied up in the crease, preventing Lundqvist from having a chance at making a play on Matt Greene’s shot from the point. And they saw Lundqvist slam his stick in anger over the lack of a call.
And what conclusion did some of the most influential people in hockey come to?
“I would say it was a split room,” said NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider, a longtime NHL defenseman. “It’s one of those things.”
One of those things the NHL just can’t seem to get right. And one of those things it can’t seem to solve.
The committee emerged from its five-hour meeting on Wednesday without a recommendation on expanding video replay to include goalie interference — the hottest topic in the NHL in the wake of King’s goal. They came to a consensus on expanding the trapezoid behind the net by four feet to allow the goalie more room to play the puck. And on going to the Olympic-style wider hashmarks to cut down on the number of faceoff scrums. And on changing ends in overtime and including a dry scrape of the ice to try to decrease the number of games that end in shootouts (more goals tend to be scored in the second period when teams face the longer change). And on harsher penalties (fines for players and coaches) for embellishment, which NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell called “out of control.”
All of these things likely will be approved by the league’s general managers on Wednesday, and eventually the board of governors by the start of the 2014-15 season.
But expanding replay continues to befuddle the league, because of the subjective nature of goalie interference. They’ll continue to discuss it — along with the possibility of coach’s challenges and reviewing whether a puck was deflected before going over the glass — with the GMs on Wednesday, but neither Schneider nor Campbell seemed inclined to pull the trigger.
Common sense suggests that having a better chance of making the right call is always worth the effort. Campbell wasn’t so sure.
“It’s easy for you to say that now, and we’ve talked in our room in Toronto many nights and we’ll debate it ourselves, we’ll disagree,” he said. “No the defenseman didn’t push him in, yes the defenseman did push him in, no the puck wasn’t past him, yes the puck was past him, no the goalie’s embellishing, no this goalie plays deep in his crease, the player can come in there, there’s some blue paint available. If it was easy, we would’ve done it a long time ago.”
In other words, imagine NFL referees being empowered with the ability to review pass interference or holding. There’d almost never be a consensus. Both Campbell and Schneider said that if no changes are made to the replay system — which appears to be the case — then the key is re-educating both referees and players as to what exactly constitutes goalie interference.
At least that way, when everyone’s arguing the next inevitable blown call, they’ll know what they’re arguing about.
“If you’re going to go to video review in a given area, there is the expectation of certainty,” Schneider said. “And it’s just not there. It’s very difficult. There’s still a ton of gray area.”
As for the Final itself, there’s no gray area left. After twice rallying from 2-0 deficits to win in overtime, the Kings left no doubt in Game 3 — and likely left Blackhawks fans wondering what might have been had they gotten one more goal against the Kings in the Western Conference final. Jeff Carter’s goal with 0.8 seconds left in the first period gave them their first lead of the series, and Jake Muzzin and Mike Richards scored in the second period while Quick made 17 stops — many of them spectacular, including a marvelous stick save on Derick Brassard.
The Kings can win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons — and wrap up the first Final sweep since 1998 — with a win on Wednesday in Game 4.