Why the Blackhawks’ two controversial goals over the weekend stood

Ryan Hartman’s overtime winner needed review to count and Jonathan Toews’ rally-sparking goal was good by a razor-thin margin. Here’s why both goals were allowed to stand. 

The Blackhawks entered the weekend with back-to-back games on the slate and left the ice Sunday having picked up consecutive victories. However, there are some who believe Chicago should have had to battle for their second point in Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout and those same folk may have some questions about the goal that sparked the Blackhawks’ Sunday comeback against the Colorado Avalanche.

In both cases, the cause for questioning the Blackhawks’ victories is an offside call. And in both cases, the reviews went in Chicago’s favor. 

Saturday’s game-winning goal, scored by Ryan Hartman with time close to expiring in overtime, came after a pass by Artemi Panarin, but some believed the Russian winger had put himself offside in the process. As for Sunday’s game, well, that one’s a bit more controversial. Inconclusive evidence on a carry-in by Richard Panik led to Jonathan Toews’ goal, and that marker started a run of three Blackhawks tallies in 34 seconds that flipped the game on its ear.Take a look at any number of social media posts made by Maple Leafs or Avalanche faithful around the time either goal was scored and you’ll find no shortage of protest. One wouldn’t even have to look too far to find claims of league favoritism for the Blackhawks. But the fact is that both goals were, in fact, good goals. And here’s why:

Blackhawks 2, Maple Leafs 1 (4:43, OT)
Goal: Ryan Hartman (Artemi Panarin)

The Hartman overtime goal, assisted by Panarin, is the easier of the two to explain, and there’s far less controversy involved in the decision. It also happened on Saturday, so let’s tackle that one to start.

The Play: After a loose puck is cleared away from the front of the Blackhawks’ net, Panarin chips the puck into space and starts to carry it up ice, making it through nearly two full zones. Meanwhile, Hartman breaks up the right wing while Maple Leafs defender Jake Gardiner attempts to defend the 2-on-1. As the play reaches the Toronto blueline, Panarin fires a cross-ice pass to Hartman, who fakes a shot before sliding the puck five-hole on Maple Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen.

The Controversy: When Panarin moves the puck back to his forehand to make the pass, his skates end up ahead of his stick. That results in the puck exiting the zone and leaving his tape as he passes while his body remains in the Maple Leafs’ zone. Hartman, the eventual goal scorer, is onside throughout.

Why It Counts: Per Rule 83.1, which pertains to offside, “a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.” Because Panarin enters the zone controlling the puck — which he had for roughly five seconds leading up to his pass — he is onside. Panarin won’t be ruled offside because he moves the puck back past the blueline while maintaining possession as he enters the zone. It’s the same rule that allows players to stickhandle into the zone backwards, so long as they’re controlling the puck throughout the zone entry.

In this instance, the only way the goal wouldn’t have counted would have been if Hartman had caught up to and passed Panarin by the time the pass was made. If the pass recipient, in this case Hartman, had entered the zone ahead of Panarin’s pass, the goal would have been called back despite Panarin possessing the puck upon entering the zone.

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Avalanche 3, Blackhawks 2 (10:17, 3rd)
Goal: Jonathan Toews (John Hayden, Duncan Keith)

The Play: After working the puck out from behind the net, Panik moves it back to Trevor van Riemsdyk, who then sends a pass to Keith. Pressured to make a play, Keith throws the puck on net, where it’s deflected twice — once by Hayden, a second time by Toews — before finding daylight behind Avalanche netminder Jeremy Smith. The goal is the first of three Chicago scores in a 34-second span, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead.

The Controversy: Panik carries the puck into the Avalanche zone on the left wing as Toews tags up down the middle to get back onside. However, there’s question as to whether Toews gets a skate on the blue paint before Panik touches the puck in the Colorado zone. The play is initially called onside, as the linesman judges Panik’s first in-zone touch doesn’t come until Toews has reached the blueline and become onside. This happens 20 seconds before the goal is scored. 

Why It Counts: This one’s a bit trickier than the Panarin possession call and relies as much on the lack of evidence as anything. 

First, an explanation, via Rule 83.3, which pertains to delayed offside. Per the rulebook, if “any member of the attacking team touches the puck, attempts to gain possession of a loose puck, forces the defending puck carrier further back into his own zone, or who is about to make physical contact with the defending puck carrier, the Linesman shall stop play for the off-side violation.” In this instance, there’s no evidence that any of the above happens to warrant an offside call.

Which brings us to the zone entry. As Panik crosses the blueline, the puck leaves his stick. While he may technically have “possession” at this point in his progress, he’s not physically handling the puck with Toews in an offside position. As Toews comes back to the blueline, the toes of his skates appear to touch the blue paint at the instant Panik makes contact with the puck in the Avalanche zone. By the most technical of definitions, Toews is onside, even if it’s a skin-of-the-teeth close call. The linesman judges that Toews is onside, and with no clearcut evidence to the contrary, the goal is allowed to stand.

It’s not as black and white as your typical offside call, and it’s no wonder it took more than three minutes for a decision to be reached by the officials, but the decision appeared to be the right one by the letter of the law. It’s microscopically close, though. For the Blackhawks, it’s a fortunate break that the linesman didn’t blow the play dead at the moment Panik and Toews were entering the zone. As a result, the Avalanche, in a season where nothing seems to be going their way, have arguably the closest call of the campaign go against them.

Now here’s hoping a similar play doesn’t end a series in the post-season.

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