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Looking at both sides of Gallagher interference debate

February 24, 2021, 10:07 AM ET [5 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
When I woke up this morning, I had several PMs asking me for my opinion of the late-game goalie interference play in the Montreal vs. Ottawa game that saw a would-be game-winning deflection goal by the Canadiens' Brenden Gallagher overturned on replay for goaltender interference.

I am of mixed views over the controversy. In terms of the final ruling on the play, I think the officials made the right call. In terms of the complains about the inconsistency of NHL's goalie interference rules, both in terms of their clunky construction within the Rule Book and how that rule set gets enforced on the ice and in replay, I completely agree. I've written on this subject more than any other Rule Book related controversy, because it's the No. 1 trouble spot that exists. There is every reason and right to complain about the sheer unpredictability of goalie interference based rulings.

Specific to THIS play, though, I believe the correct call was made to disallow the goal. My creteria:

1) Gallagher was the player who supplied the energy that brought him into the blue paint. This is vital because, but for Gallagher already entering the right side of the crease on his own power, the rest of the chain of events likely would not have followed.

2) Was Gallagher pushed by defender Nikita Zaitsev into goaltender Matt Murray, i.e. Zaitsev supplying the energy? Or was it the result of a legitimate hockey play of two players jostling for position? These are debatable questions, and their answers would be the central matter of importance had Gallagher not already established a position inside the crease under his own power. It's less important under the circumstances of this particular play.

For what its worth, I am not sure what other options a defender has in this situation but to try to shove the opposing player out of the way without committing a penalty (via roughing, cross-checking, holding, etc.). Generally speaking, if the shove occurs on a player outside the crease, I'd be more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the team that scored. With the attacker already inside the crease, the benefit of the doubt shifts to the defending team. Again, this is lieu of a penalty-worthy infraction by either player.

3) Did replays show that Gallagher's deflection caused the puck to cross the goal line and end the play? Or was it the Montreal second effort play, by which time Gallagher was out of the crease, that ended the play? If it was the latter, it would have been a good goal. It was not, however. Gallagher tipped it over the line, so the goalie interference decision tree is in play.

4) Was Murray hampered in having a fair opportunity to make a save by virtue of Gallagher knocking into him and then still having a skate in the paint -- albeit in the act of attempting to vacate -- as he deflected the puck? I would say yes. This is the hockey version of the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" doctrine. Given all of the aforementioned circumstances, was this goal the result of goaltender interference by Gallagher. To me, the answer is yes.

These are are not easy rulings to make in real time on the ice because there are so many split-second aspects and (literal) moving parts. As such, this play is one where I believe the use of video replay is completely merited. In terms of the inconsistency of final rulings on materially similar or close-to-identical plays, however, I wholeheartedly agree that improvement is needed. Absolute consistency may not be attainable but there's too much toss-a-coin nature and disconnect (not to mention subpar positional coaching) overall.

This time around, though, the right call was made in my estimation.


A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart.
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