Every sports fan wants to believe their fanbase is special. They go to the games because they feel that, even in the tiniest ways, their cheers and jeers can affect the outcome of the games. Well, on Saturday night, one fanbase can confidently claim it was their actions that won the game for the home team. A NHL game between the visiting Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens was decided, in part, because the arena was too loud.
To set up this…baffling…conclusion, a look back at what led to the overtime period needs to be addressed. The Ottawa Senators had played an almost perfect hockey game going late into the third period. They allowed a goal just 38 seconds into the game, but scored four unanswered goals over the next two periods to give themselves a comfortable 4-1 lead with just over five minutes left in the third. On most nights, that score with that little time left means the game will end with a “W” in the win/loss column. This was not one of those nights. The Canadiens scored two quick goals just over a minute apart to make it a one-goal game with momentum swinging far in Montreal’s direction.
This momentum lasted until the final seconds of regulation. A mad scramble for the puck left defenseman P.K. Subban with the puck at the point and a frantic Robin Lehner searching for the puck. Rather than take the final second shot that everyone watching the game was expecting him to take, Subban pulled off the savviest of moves and instead passed the puck to Montreal forward David Desharnias, who had all the space in the world to shoot the puck into the empty net. He did not, however, have all the time in the world. Deshnarnias’s game-tying goal came with less than one second left in the game clock. A review showed the puck crossing the goal line at .3 seconds, completing Montreal’s improbable comeback.
The Senators were incensed at the officials, as they felt Lehner was interfered with just moments before the goal. Lehner was pushed around in the crease by Montreal’s Thomas Vanek, but it was determined that Lehner was able to recover fully between that contact and the game-tying goal. The call on the ice had been made and the play had been reviewed. There was not much the Senators could do but gripe and head to the locker room to prepare for an unexpected overtime. Little did they know their night was about to get a whole lot worse.
Montreal would win the game in overtime, off a play that would have been blown dead in the NHL on any other night. A harmless shot from the faceoff circle by forward Max Pacioretty was stopped by Lehner, who held the puck on the ice. He held it…and held it…and continued to do so, expecting the whistle that always came from this course of action. But the whistle never came. Hockey players are taught from a very young age to “play until the whistle”, so Montreal players swarmed the crease, poking and prodding the Ottawa goaltender in an attempt to jar the puck loose. It eventually did, popping out to Montreal defenseman Francis Bouillon, who slammed the puck into the open net.
Needless to say, if the Senators were upset at the game-tying goal, they were furious at the overtime game-winner. As Montreal players surrounding Bouillon in celebration, Ottawa players surround referee Eric Furlatt in anger. Forward Bobby Ryan charged at Furlatt after the goal, and had to be held back by two other officials. There was no logical reason that could possibly be given as to why the puck was not blown dead, so an illogical one was given instead. According to the Senators coach Paul MacLean, when asked why the goal was allowed, Furlatt told Senators captain Jason Spezza “it was too loud.”
It is unknown exactly what Furlatt meant when he gave that baffling explanation. He could have meant that the arena was too loud at the moment, so he could not give a proper explanation to the Senators captain. One can only hope, as the other options are almost too stupid to comprehend. For if Furlatt meant that the arena was so loud that he could not blow the whistle to kill the play in the seemingly numerous seconds that Lehner held the puck, his officiating abilities must be called into question. Even so, the NHL has a rulebook on the rare occasions that a goal is scored before an official can react accordingly.
Rule 31.2 in the rulebook states that because there is a human factor in the act of blowing a whistle to stop play, the referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior the whistle is actually blown. Likewise, Rule 78.5 in the rulebook, under the section of “Disallowed Goals”, it states that a goal will be disallowed “when the referee has deemed the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle.”
Why Furlatt did not invoke this rule is known only to the official. But as it stands now, the Montreal Canadiens took a 5-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators, a game decided in overtime, because the cheers of the Montreal faithful in the arena were too loud. And for a while, hockey fans will have a new goal to aim for, as it has now become official that their mere presence in the arena can have an effect on the result of a game.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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