With the NHL playoffs starting Wednesday night, the quest to win Lord Stanley's cup will begin. The games become more important, and the pressure on each team and individual player mounts.
With the pressure to win being incredibly high, the importance of each goal is drastically heightened. Which is why a blown call or early whistle can create such controversy.
It is usually very simple to tell if a goal is truly a goal, whether or not it crosses the red line. However, with a slew of variable factors and circumstances that red line can become blurred. This unpredictability contributes to the most controversial goals scored during the playoffs as teams fight for the Stanley Cup.
Here are the five most controversial goals in NHL playoff history. And some good examples that hockey referees are human too.
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In Game 4 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers, the game was decided by a blown call and a blown review.
Down by one goal with under a minute remaining, it appeared as if Danny Brière had been robbed by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. However, replays clearly show that the puck had crossed the red line and therefore, should have been a goal.
However, upon review officials concluded that there was not conclusive evidence to rule the play a goal. The Sabres couldn't tie it and the Rangers took the game 2-1.
While this game didn't end up being a deciding game in the series, the true controversy stems from the incompetence of the officials who reviewed the play.
With such visual evidence and technological aid in this day and age it is baffling that the officials could not get the replay correct. Blowing the original call is understandable, as officials are seeing events occur in realtime. But blowing the review is unacceptable and is why this is one of the most controversial plays in playoff history.
The first of many examples of the Buffalo Sabres being doomed at the hands of poor officiating, not poor play.
In Game 2 of the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals between the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings, it wasn't players who decided the game, but referee Brad Watson.
With just over a minute remaining in the game, which was currently tied 1-1, Anaheim defenseman Scott Niedermayer lost control of the puck, which tricked into the crease and was then shot into the net by a diving Marian Hossa.
However Watson, who had lost sight of the puck in the scuffle, blew the whistle, even though video clearly showed the puck sitting uncovered in the crease. Since the play was whistled down, it was deemed dead at the whistle and therefore not reviewable.
The game continued scoreless into triple-overtime, where center Todd Marchant won the game for the Ducks. Needless to say, Mike Babcock was not a happy camper after the loss. From NHL.com:
"We should be playing (overtime) obviously, right now...Two teams scored twice tonight, but it just didn't work out that way. There's no sense in complaining about the refereeing or anything like that."
In the end the Red Wings won the series, so no harm, no foul. However, this still stands as one of the most controversial plays in playoff history. A classic example of a referee changing the outcome of a game. Luckily it didn't change the outcome of the series.
Less than a year after experiencing the most controversial call in playoff history, the Buffalo Sabres were repeat victims of murky officiating.
In Game 2 of the 2000 Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers, winger John LeClair fired a shot on goaltender Dominik Hasek that looked like it had gone into the net. LeClair slowly started celebrating and Hasek stood confused, unsure of what had just happened.
The goal was reviewed and was upheld as a goal. Only minutes later did an ESPN camera angle reveal that the puck had entered the net from the side! From the side not the front. It ripped right through the mesh.
But it begs the question: Upon review, how could they miss the puck going into the net from the side?
The two men responsible for reviewing the goal, John D'Amico and Mike Condon, only spent 52 seconds reviewing the play and surprisingly didn't have access to the ESPN feed. The only views they had showed good goal.
When questioned as to why they didn't have the ESPN feed, D'Amico responded (via Sports Illustrated), "Good question."
The Flyers ended up winning the game 2-1. The margin of difference being one goal. One of the Flyers' goals went into the net from the front, legally. The other ripped through the side of the net, a perfect example of a game decided by the hands of others.
The fact that the people responsible for reviewing the goal were not provided with all the necessary angles to properly review the play is inexcusable and a reason the Sabres potentially lost the game, and this goal is one of the most controversial in playoff history.
Buffalo Sabres fans have a name for this play, they call it "No Goal II."
What's "No Goal I" then? Keep reading.
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In the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, the Calgary Flames entered Game 6 with a 3-2 lead in the series over the Tampa Bay Lightning and seemed poised to take the cup. But it was not to be.
With around seven minutes left in the third period, with the game tied 2-2, it appeared that Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin had made an incredible save from a deflection off the foot of Flames forward Martin Gelinas.
However, replays later showed a distinct white space between the puck and the goal line, leading even the commentators to proclaim that it was a goal. Regardless, the play was never reviewed.
The rest of the third period was scoreless, with Martin St. Louis eventually winning the game in overtime for the Lightning. Tampa Bay would go on to win Game 7 and the Stanley Cup.
The way in which the officials handled this play is horrendous. To not review a play of that magnitude is totally unacceptable in every possible way. By not taking time to review that play, the officials potentially robbed Calgary of a Stanley Cup.
It is still contested today as to whether or not the puck was actually in the net, as many claim that the puck was in midair, which therefore gave the illusion that it was in the net.
Regardless, the fact that the play wasn't reviewed sparked tremendous controversy and anger toward the NHL, especially from Flames fans, and since it is still being disputed, is one of the most controversial plays in playoff history.
In 1999, the Dallas Stars entered Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a 3-2 series lead over the Buffalo Sabres and a chance to win it all. With the game tied at 1-1 at the conclusion of the second period, no one would have guessed it would take more than another hour of play for the game to be decided.
With Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek's incredible play, the game lasted to an exhausting third overtime period. It was 14:51 minutes into triple-overtime when the most controversial goal in playoff history occurred.
Brett Hull kicked a rebounded puck to his stick and then proceed to bury the Cup-winning goal past Hasek. The controversy was that Hull had his toe in the crease, which was prohibited according to NHL rules at the time.
However, the goal stood, the Stars were champions and Sabres fans everywhere still feel they were wronged. They are so angry, this goal is nicknamed "No Goal" by fans and has its own place in NHL lore.
Bryan Lewis, the NHL's Supervisor of Officials, offered this explanation. From The Democrat and Chronicle:
"A puck that rebounds off the goalie, the goal post or an opposing player is not deemed to be a change of possession, and therefore Hull would be deemed to be in possession or control of the puck, allowed to shoot and score a goal even though the one foot would be in the crease in advance of the puck...Hull had possession and control of the puck. The rebound off the goalie does not change anything. It is his puck then to shoot and score albeit a foot may or may not be in the crease prior to."
While this murky explanation may somewhat clarify the goal to the average fan, Sabres fans still feel they were robbed. Maybe it was because the previous time a Buffalo franchise was on the verge of a championship this happened.
Either way this still stands today as the most controversial play in NHL playoff history. Hopefully, this year's playoffs will be decided by the players, not the referees.