By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It didn’t take long for the NHL offside review rules, which have been polarizing at best, to creep into a Stanley Cup Final game. In Monday night’s Game 1 between the Penguins and Predators, one questionable call stained an otherwise entertaining affair with one of the most insufferable rule enforcements in all of sports.
Offside wasn’t invented in the first place to ensure that Nashville’s Filip Forsberg would make sure his skate wasn’t off the ice by a centimeter. It wasn’t invented so the referees could painstakingly analyze every last pixel to determine that Forsberg’s foot was in the air for a nanosecond before the last millimeter of the puck crossed the blue line.
Yet here they were, unnecessarily taking advantage of their available technology while Penguins coach Mike Sullivan took advantage of his ability to challenge offside as long as he had a timeout at his disposal. And as the refs peeled P.K. Subban’s first-period goal off the scoreboard after a review that felt like four overtimes had been played, everyone lost – except Pittsburgh, of course.
Here’s the video of Subban’s goal, which came about 16 seconds after Forsberg entered the offensive zone, and the subsequent review:
The refs ultimately determined that Forsberg’s right skate left the ice before the puck crossed the blue line, making him offside on the play. Upon (extremely) close inspection, it appears that the officials may have gotten the play right – but it certainly was not “conclusive” enough to overturn the call made on the ice.
The Predators claimed after the game that the disallowed goal didn’t suck the life out of them, but the fact is the Penguins ended up firing off a three-goal barrage in the first period. The nullified goal may not have hurt the Preds themselves, but it certainly appeared to give the Pens and their home fans an extra boost of adrenaline at the time.
The bottom line is, if offside review didn’t exist, no one would be talking about the Subban goal on Tuesday. No one would have thought for a second about whether Forsberg’s skate was off the ice by half an inch or whether the puck crossed the blue line a centimeter too early. The fact that the supposed “offside” couldn’t be seen with the naked eye (and still couldn’t be definitively seen on replays) should be enough for everyone to accept that as long as the NHL has humans for referees, human errors are going to be made – and this should have been a human error that viewers were willing to accept.
Especially when it was a human error that viewers otherwise wouldn’t have even noticed.
Offside review went both for and against the Bruins during their opening-round playoff series against the Senators. Even when the referees got the call right, like they did in Game 4, they exposed the flaws of the rule.
The Subban goal on Monday night was similar, as the goal came well after Forsberg entered the zone and possession changed multiple times. But in this case, Forsberg wasn’t clearly offside. It was a borderline case at best. Forsberg was at least trying to stay onside and not doing anything egregious.
The worst part of all of this? NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, almost prophetically, spoke about offside review on Monday, mere hours before Game 1 started:
“We hear the commentary. ‘Well, it was just offside by a little bit. His skate was in the air.’ The fact of the matter is, it’s our job to make sure the rules are complied with, and the video replay through the coach’s challenge on offside has worked exactly as we hoped it would. The rule is the rule. We enforce it.”
The controversy also spawned some strong Twitter reactions:
Even the Penguins, who managed four goals on just 12 shots on goal and added an empty-netter, know they got away with playing less than their best hockey. “We weren’t very good,” Sullivan said repeatedly after the game (via Pro Hockey Talk).
The bulk of the conversation on Tuesday should be about the suspenseful back-and-forth action that was emblematic of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially in the third period as the Preds clawed back into the game. But thanks to yet another questionable use of offside review, the Stanley Cup Final kicked off with the wrong kind of suspense.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.