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Abolish The Penalty For Losing A Replay Challenge

Alex Tuch attempts to score
Harrison Barden/Getty

Despite the chance to clinch the series and head to the second round, the Vegas Golden Knights looked like they were skating in quicksand all game long against the Minnesota Wild. But down 1-0 midway through the third period, it seemed as though they might have received the break they needed to help avoid a Game 7. Kind of a nothing shot from Chandler Stephenson whizzed by a completely screened Cam Talbot for what appeared to be the Knights’ first goal in about 80 minutes of hockey. But it didn’t hold up.

After some discussion, the goal was waved off because of interference on Talbot by Alex Tuch in the crease. You can check it out for yourself in the video below. As someone who thinks interference should only be called if the goalie has a literal knife sticking out of his chest, I thought it was a weak call, but it was at least consistent with a very similar interference that went in Vegas’s favor in Game 4.

What I think everyone can agree on, though, is that, given the significance of the goal or non-goal, it was a play that demanded to be looked at again. If you’re going to have replay review in hockey, these are the controversial moments where it has to be deployed. And, to no one’s surprise, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer used a challenge to try and get the overturn overturned.

He failed, though. (I guess you knew that if you watched the video.) And as a result of the NHL’s mandated punishment for losing a challenge, Vegas received a delay-of-game penalty and had to go a man down. And it was there that the Wild doubled their advantage, as a wrist shot from Kevin Fiala ghosted through Marc-Andre Fleury’s five-hole. The Wild would go on to win 3-0, staving off elimination for the second game in a row.

I’m not going to play the game where I try and figure out what could have been if Vegas didn’t have to go a man down or whatever. But dang, it’s pretty stupid to punish a team just for trying to make sure that a crucial call is correct! The minor penalty for failed challenges has been around in its current form since 2019–20—an older version assessed the penalty only on failed offside challenges—and while I do think there’s value in trying to deter frivolous reviews, a totally valid if unsuccessful challenge like last night’s shouldn’t swing key playoff games. If the idea is simply to get calls right, then replay review functions much better as a safety net for officials than as some extra layer of risk-reward strategy for coaches to worry about. Scrap the challenge system entirely and trust the refs to call for backup in the tight moments when it’s most necessary.

That’s not something Vegas can afford to dwell on today, though, as a team that’s struggled to close out series in recent years now has to reckon with the possibility of blowing a 3-1 lead. Game 7 is on Friday and … OK, I’m just going to say it: I really hope the Knights figure out how to get it together. Vegas-Colorado would be a marquee matchup of the two top teams in the NHL this year, and it would be vicious and fun and just a big exciting collision of titans. (Vegas was first in goals against and third in goals scored this year. Colorado was third and first in those same respective categories.)

The Wild, on the other hand, generally have to play ugly, chance-limiting hockey in order to win. They have exactly one cool player in Kirill Kaprizov, and they were 28th in the league and worst among playoff teams in terms of shots on goal this year, only picking up points because of crap opposing goalies, who let in a higher percentage of shots against the Wild than any team besides the Caps and Pens, both of which have already been banished to hell.

Phew, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Anyway, no more draconian punishments for teams trying to challenge! This blog is over.