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james mirtle

The game was stretching into the wee hours on Tuesday night before a little creativity from Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw woke everyone up and ignited a debate over a play few had ever seen before.

Deep into double overtime of Game 2 of the Western Conference final, Shaw scored a goal by leaping in the air and using his helmet to bang a puck past Anaheim Ducks netminder Frederik Andersen.

It looked exactly like a play you would see in a soccer game, with a high ball coming off a corner kick.

It wasn't a legal goal here though.

The relevant section of the NHL's rulebook is section 78.5, which reads: "Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee and the appropriate announcement made by the Public Address Announcer for the following reasons: (i) When the puck has been directed, batted or thrown into the net by an attacking player other than with a stick."

That was clearly the case, even if we've never witnessed a play quite like this at the NHL level.

Credit officials with making the right call immediately. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville seemed to immediately sense it wouldn't count either, and his team stayed on the ice without much celebration.

There was mass confusion on social media from fans and media, however. And a heated discussion emerged on social media over whether the goal "should" have counted.

There are clear reasons why the NHL disallowed goals scored via kicks and punches. One is for safety reasons, as you can hardly have players swinging skates around in front of the net, especially with players and goalies down on the ice.

The other is for obvious reasons related to the integrity of the sport. Handling the puck is generally a no-no, as per the hand pass rule, and being able to throw the puck into the goal certainly fits in there.

But a header?

With scoring as low as it is in these playoffs, at under five goals a game, you can see why some wanted Shaw's goal to count. It was creative. It'll make highlight reels, even on ESPN. And the soccer comparisons are obvious.

Why it can't count relates back to both the kicking and batting rules. It's not really a "safe" play to have players trying to use their heads and faces to hammer a rock-hard puck into the goal, never mind teammates "passing" the puck up to eye level for those opportunities.

There are concussion risks there, for one.

And a header also seems to fit in with the high-sticking rules, as it's clearly over the cross bar and involves directing the puck from a higher elevation down toward the net.

It's kind of farfetched to imagine many players duplicating what Shaw did, but the last thing the NHL wants is players lunging face forward at pucks trying to score, which is what may start to happen given how difficult it is to beat goalies right now.

So while it's easy to understand the "let it count!" sentiment, the rule is in there for good reason.

Hockey is simply going to have to find other ways to create more offence.

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