The AHL has a controversy on its hands after a blown call by officials led to an overtime winning goal in the Calder Cup finals on Thursday night.
The Norfolk Admirals took a 3-0 series lead in the league's championship series when they scored the only goal in a 1-0 overtime win after defenceman Mike Kostka's dump in hit off a stanchion deep in the Toronto Marlies zone and ricocheted towards the net.
Because Marlies goaltender Ben Scrivens was behind the goal to play the incoming puck, the net was left unattended and the puck caromed into it.
Unnoticed by officials, however, was the fact Norfolk had at least one player offside when the puck was shot in, which according to the AHL rulebook should have negated the goal:
"83.4 Disallowed Goal – If the puck is shot on goal during a delayed offside, the play shall be allowed to continue under the normal clearing-the-zone rules. Should the puck, as a result of this shot, enter the defending team's goal, either directly or off the goalkeeper, a player or an official on the ice, the goal shall be disallowed as the original shot was off-side. The fact that the attacking team may have cleared the zone prior to the puck entering the goal has no bearing on this ruling."
AHL president David Andrews released a statement on Friday morning that confirmed the officials had missed the key call.
"We have spoken with Toronto Marlies management and confirmed that a rules interpretation error by the on-ice officials occurred," Andrews said. "The correct application of AHL Rule 83.4 would have negated the Norfolk goal due to a delayed offside call.
"As AHL By-Laws do not allow for any change to the final result of a game based on an incorrect rule interpretation, the result of the game stands."
The play was so unique and unexpected that it obviously caught all of the players, coaches and officials involved off guard.
Even Marlies coach Dallas Eakins said he had never seen a play like it and assumed in his postgame press conference that the right call had been made.
"I saw it and it's a real interesting one for the referees," Eakins said. "The puck comes out, the puck's rimmed in, there's a guy that's offside by about eight to 10 feet, the puck hits the stanchion, but now he is onside and it goes in your net. It's a fairly grey area. Once again, something that I've never seen. I'm sure the referees have never seen anything like that either."
It wasn't until long after the game had finished and replays became available to the media that the mistake was caught, and league officials were not immediately available for comment.
The play was particularly devastating for Scrivens, who was still named the game's first star despite the gaffe after making 30 saves in a losing cause.
"It's very unfortunate," he said. "It sucks to lose a game like that. It's tough to look at it and say I should have done this, I should have done that because I've played the puck that way every year.
"Am I allowed to swear? That's about it. I mean what can you do? It's a bounce. It's no different than a puck going six feet wide and going off a shin pad. There's some things you can control out there. You know, it's a bounce; bounces happen all the time. I've never seen it happen in overtime before, and it sucks that the first time I saw it happen was on me."
As is always the case with blown calls, the Marlies will not have much recourse to fight the ruling. Offside plays are not reviewable by video, and the game will not be replayed.
Game 4, meanwhile, goes Saturday afternoon back at the Ricoh Coliseum, and the Marlies now have to win four straight against a team that hasn't lost four games in the last four months to win the title.
"Do we have a very steep climb at the top of this long mountain that we've been climbing? Absolutely," Eakins said. "But we will attack it and try to get there to the top as fast as we can. If we fall off it, we fall. That's fine. We're not going to stand back this next game and mail it in."