Stanley Cup Finals: Tomas Holmstrom vs. the Refs

Keith SheltonAnalyst IMay 25, 2008

Tomas Holmstrom is not a star hockey player. He's not very fast, he can't skate all that well, he doesn't even have a great shot.

There is, however, one thing that Holmstrom can do that makes him invaluable to the Red Wings. He does this one thing better than anyone else in the NHL. That one thing is screening the goaltender, and Holmstrom has done it for over a decade.

That's 10+ years of making goaltender's life miserable by anticipating their movements and blocking their vision from the puck. Holmstrom has scored more goals than anyone with his skill set and has the right to score simply by knocking in deflected pucks near the net.

Search YouTube and you'll find plenty of examples for how Holmstrom operates. He stands just outside the crease, moving with the goaltender without seeing him. This, as you can imagine, frustrates the hell out of any goaltender, as it creates a struggle for the goalie to see the puck.

Tomas Holmstrom has done this for his entire career, but as the season went on, and especially into the playoffs, he has been increasingly restricted.

In Game 4 against Dallas, Holmstrom was standing outside the crease, screening the goalie as he always does when Pavel Datsyuk scored. The goal was waived off. The only explanation that was given was that Holmstrom's butt was in the crease. Huh?

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Last night, in Game 1 against Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals, Holmstrom was again outside of the crease when Lidstrom scored. This goal was immediately waived off as well. The explanation for this one was that Holmstrom hit Marc-Andre Fluery with his stick.

The official NHL rulebook has this to say about goaltender interference:

"Rule 78. B

If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed."

Let's look at the waived off goal in Game 4 against Dallas. Holmstrom was completely outside of the crease, Marty Turco was inside the crease. Holmstrom's butt was ruled to have blocked Turco's vision and so interference was the call and the goal was waived off. There wasn't contact against Turco. This doesn't fit the rule for goaltender interference.

How about Lidstrom's goal last night? Holmstrom was outside the crease and made contact with Fluery with his stick, but take a closer look. Fluery skated out of the crease to run into Holmstrom's stick.

Fluery initiated the contact and so this must be called incidental contact, so according to the rules this also was not goaltender interference. Yet, the goal was waived off AND Holmstrom was issued a penalty.

Both goals were waived off by referee Dan O'Halloran, who incidently also waived off a goal due to Holmstrom in the regular season. O'Halloran clearly either doesn't understand Rule 78.B or just has a personal vendetta against Tomas Holmstrom. Either way, something has to happen here.

In Game 4 against Dallas, the unjustly waived-off goal took the wind out of Detroit's sails. Dallas then scored the "first" goal and Detroit couldn't recover.

In Game 1 against Pittsburgh, Detroit didn't let the waived off goal affect their game and still won handily. However, what if Pittsburgh scored first? Detroit fans know the wings, like most teams, play better with a lead and it could have thrown the game into Pittsburgh's favor.

So what happens now? Holmstrom's confidence has to be significantly decreased by these recent events. Without the ability to screen the goaltender, Holmstrom is ineffective and might as well hang up the skates.

One of two things can happen here to make Detroit fans, and fans of any team with a netfront player like Holmstrom happy.

1.) Create a goaltender interference rule that is clear as crystal and interpreted the same way by every referee. The current rule is obviously too subjective and open to interpretation.

2.) Allow instant replay in the NHL. In cases like Game 4 against Dallas and Game 1 against Pittsburgh, the play would be sent to a play judge in Toronto and ruled fair or not there. Instant replay of course isn't perfect, but it would be an improvement over the status quo.

I'm not one who would call conspiracy, I'm not one who would say the refs want team X to win. But I do demand accountability from the referees as any fan should. Dan O'Halloran should at the very least be suspended for the remainder of the finals. Can we expect accountability with Gary Bettman in charge? probably not.

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