Did Subban knock the net off on purpose? Does it matter?

Jason Kay
Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens - Game Three

Give the Boston Bruins credit. They didn’t point fingers of blame at anyone except themselves following their Game 3 loss in Montreal on Tuesday.

In particular, there was no complaining about the lack of a call when P.K. Subban knocked the net off its pegs in the dying moments. They’re aware they can only control what they can control and that things tend to even out over the long haul. (And, hey, maybe they’ve gotten away with one or two of their own infractions in this series).

“It’s about bearing down and starting a lot earlier to make it a game,” Patrice Bergeron told reporters after the 4-2 loss, taking responsibility.

Still, the play merits analysis, because for us mere observers, it was a pivotal moment.

With the Habs nursing a one-goal lead and the Bruins pressing for the equalizer, Subban chased the puck behind his team’s goal and his right shoulder dislodged the cage. There was no Bruin within several feet of him; he wasn’t pushed or obstructed. And he’s a professional player who oozes skill and the ability to control his movements. To these eyes, and many others, this was no accident.

“No chance,” Tweeted Edmonton Oiler David Perron when it was suggestion the play was unintentional. “He is a smart player and I’d bet anything he did it on purpose.”

According to the rule 63.5 in the NHL book, if either referee Tim Peel or Chris Rooney had deemed the move deliberate, they would have had no choice but to award a penalty shot since the infraction occurred in the final two minutes. Instead, they ruled it accidental and blew the play dead.

We’ll give the referees the benefit of doubt. We have the advantage of replay and significantly more time to digest and process what we witnessed. They’re forced to make a judgment call virtually instantaneously and may not have had ideal vantage points.

On the other hand, in the broader picture, we know that it’s hockey’s tradition, for better or worse, to allow relatively minor infractions to go unpenalized as the stakes grow. That is, generally speaking, unless something egregious transpires towards the end of the third period of close games, and in overtime (or unless coincidental penalties are called), almost anything goes.

In this case, the consequence may be disproportionately harsh. A penalty shot for delay of game when there wasn’t an obvious scoring chance lost feels over the top. Still, it’s in the rule book and if the legislation is bad, then it should be changed.

Really, if you study the league’s penal code, there are myriad plays we see with frequency that rarely get called. Under Rule 63 (Delay of Game), for example, the referee is given wide latitude to call minors for any number of tactics. “A player or a team may be penalized when, in the opinion of the Referee, is delaying the game in any manner,” the book stipulates.

So any time a player falls on the puck, or when a goalie leaves his crease to freeze the puck, or when a player or goalie takes an extra few moments to adjust his equipment, or when a coach has the wrong number of players out before the puck is dropped, or when a team has two faceoff violations on the same draw, a penalty is supposed to be called.

And that’s just under Rule 63.

Perhaps as fans we should follow Bergeron’s lead and accept that sometimes things aren’t going to go our way and if the club had made its own luck earlier, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Of course, that would take some of the fun out of fandom and kill our morning-after rant sessions. And it would eliminate much of the fodder bloggers, reporters and talk radio need to fill their content quotas.

Never mind. Let’s keep bitching.