RALEIGH, N.C. — Captain Alex Ovechkin screamed expletives from the bench as Coach Todd Reirden yelled in frustration.
The Washington Capitals thought they had scored a crucial tying goal midway through the third period of Game 6 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night thanks to a savvy play by Ovechkin at the front of the net. But while the Capitals thought the puck was loose under the pads of Carolina goaltender Petr Mrazek and therefore fair for Ovechkin to knock in despite Ovechkin making contact with Mrazek, the referees deemed the play to be goaltender interference and no goal.
The game-changing decision, which was upheld after a review, proved to be the turning point in the Capitals’ 5-2 loss. Washington will head back to Capital One Arena for a decisive Game 7 against the Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
“From our angle from the bench, it looked like the puck was loose,” Reirden said. “That’s not how the league or the referees saw it, and that’s a decision they made. But for us, we thought the puck was loose. It was still a puck that was in play.”
The Capitals were trailing 3-2 when forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has struggled offensively all series, made a slick move with the puck as he charged around the net and tucked it back in front, forcing Mrazek to make a quick save. But as the puck rested under Mrazek’s pads, Ovechkin pushed it over the goal line for what seemed to be the equalizer 10:34 into the third period.
The referees, however, waved the goal off, leaving Washington to challenge the call of goaltender interference. After the review, it was confirmed that Ovechkin interfered with Mrazek “by pushing his pad, which caused the puck to enter the net.”
An explanation from the NHL cited Rule 69.3: “If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”
Reirden said after the game that he was still unclear on the explanation.
“They made their decision, and it really wasn’t up for debate,” Reirden said. “I don’t have to come and give you a reason why, and they did not come to the bench and tell me why.”
Washington players also voiced their displeasure with the call.
“We all thought — well, we think we know the rules,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “If he has it covered, you can’t push him in, but we didn’t think he had it covered. And if he doesn’t have it covered, usually you can get in there and it is fair game and it is kind of like a rebound. But I don’t know. . . . You never know what they are thinking.”
Orpik compared the play to the goal scored by Toronto’s Auston Matthews to open Game 5 of the Maple Leafs’ series against the Boston Bruins late last week. The call on the ice had Matthews scoring the goal, but Boston argued that Toronto’s Zach Hyman had been pushed in the back into goaltender Tuukka Rask, which could constitute goaltender interference. After a review, the call stood: good goal.
“It is a huge turning point,” Orpik said. “There are missed calls all night. The one, the second goal [Carolina scored], the guy chops [Capitals defenseman Jonas] Siegenthaler in the hands and it leads right to a goal, too. It is stuff that is going to happen and you got to play through it, but hopefully it doesn’t lead to goals and affect the outcome, but tonight, it probably did a little bit.”
Shortly after the call, Carolina captain Justin Williams, a former Capitals player, scored on a deflection to put the Hurricanes up 4-2 with 8:02 left.
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton scored the fifth and final goal for Carolina into an empty net with 3:06 to play.
“It is a big time in the game,” Reirden said. “It is a huge goal, gets it tied up there, and we are in a whole different game. We lose a little bit of momentum there, but it is on us to respond to that.”