Was a crucial Predators goal in Game 4 vs. Canucks kicked in? Yes, but…

Tonight’s Game 4 between the Predators and Canucks in Nashville featured a controversial key moment. The Predators’ third goal, which came early in the third period, has led to confusion over whether it should have counted.

Here’s the play in question:

Filip Forsberg scores the goal. But it doesn’t go in off his stick. Instead, he seems to intentionally deflect it in with his skate. The NHL rulebook prohibits goals from being scored with a “distinct kicking motion,” a phrase that’s become a punchline over the years for fans. The league doesn’t want players scoring soccer-style goals, not least of which because of the danger presented by skate blades swinging near the same puck that a goaltender is reaching for.

The goal made it 3-1 for Nashville, and ended up being crucially important when the Canucks scored two late goals to force overtime. Take that goal off the board, and maybe Vancouver wins in regulation.



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So: Was Forsberg’s goal kicked in?

The answer is yes, very obviously.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t count, which is where things get tricky.

Here’s what the rulebook says, in rule 37.2:

Plays that involve a puck entering the net as a direct result of a “distinct kicking motion” shall be ruled NO GOAL. A “distinct kicking motion,” for purposes of Video Review, is one where the video makes clear that an attacking Player has deliberately propelled the puck with a kick of his foot or skate and the puck subsequently enters the net. A goal cannot be scored on a play where an attacking Player propels the puck with his skate into the net (even by means of a subsequent deflection off of another Player) using a “distinct kicking motion.”

We’re already into somewhat confusing territory here, and the constant scare quotes aren’t a great sign. The rule does go on:

A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking Player’s skate who does not use a “distinct kicking motion” shall be ruled a GOAL. A puck that is directed into the net by an attacking Players’ skate shall also be ruled a GOAL, as long as no “distinct kicking motion” is evident.

If it feels like we’re repeating ourselves here, we kind of are. But what the rules are essentially saying is that directing or deflecting a puck into the net with a skate is OK, as long as that “distinct kicking motion” isn’t present.

Great. What makes a kicking motion distinct? That’s the tricky part, and it’s a question that other leagues have tapped out on by changing their rules to drop the distinction entirely.

The rulebook dives back into the topic a few sections later, in rule 49.2, where it says this:

A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player’s skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal. A puck that is directed into the net by an attacking player’s skate shall be a legitimate goal as long as no distinct kicking motion is evident.

Yeah, we’re just saying the same thing over and over again at this point. Frustratingly, if you’re looking for a specific definition of a “distinct kicking motion,” you won’t find it. The phrase appears 16 times in the rulebook, but all of the references seem to assume that we know what “distinct kicking motion” is.

Maybe that’s fine – we don’t need to define every possible thing down to the letter, and there’s room in a rulebook for some common sense. But the ambiguity leads to situations like we had on Sunday, where one fan base — in this case, the Canucks — can see an obvious kick where there wasn’t one.

And for whatever it’s worth, I don’t think there was one. The NHL may not define a kicking motion as tightly as we’d like, but they’re been reasonably consistent over the years with how they rule on these plays. They’re basically looking for the skate to swing, especially if it comes up off the ice in the process.

One key here is that none of this speaks to whether a play is intentional. An attacking player is absolutely allowed to intentionally deflect or direct a puck into the net with his skate. Similarly, we’ve seen goals waved off for kicking motions that may have been accidental. The motion is what matters, not the intent.

For Forsberg’s goal, there’s a bit of a swing of the skate. It looks more like a guy trying to stop than a full-fledged kick, but we’re not worried about intent. And as many have pointed out, Forsberg sure doesn’t seem to celebrate the way you might expect. It’s almost as if he thinks the goal will come back.

The league disagreed, ruling that there wasn’t enough to overturn the call on the ice. I think they got it right, although it’s a subjective call and this is closer than some similar plays. It’s close, so the ruling on the ice stood, which is how this is supposed to work, even if sometimes it doesn’t.

One final point: This is not one of those plays that a team can challenge. I saw some chatter on social media about Canucks coach Rick Tocchet blowing it by not asking for a review. But he can’t — that’s for offside, goalie interference and missed stoppages. This play falls into the same category as goals scored with high sticks or as time is expiring. The review is automatic, and it’s handled by the league’s war room, which is why you don’t see the referees go over to take part. The league took a look, they decided the kicking motion wasn’t “distinct,” and the goal counted.

Depending on which team you’re rooting for, it was either an obviously good goal, or the Canucks’ late comeback win was a case of “puck don’t lie.” Maybe the league finally cleans up the rulebook here. But for now, it was probably the right call.

(Photo: Brett Carlsen / Getty Images)

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