The NHL rulebook has its share of gray areas and room for interpretation, which the St. Louis Blues discovered Tuesday night when a goal scored off the lower extremities of referee Tim Peel was disallowed, despite deflecting off the skate of Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo and into the net.
Rule 78.5 states "a goal is disallowed when the puck has deflected directly into the net off an official."
The NHL clarified to ESPN on Wednesday that "directly" doesn't necessarily mean "directly." According to Stephen Walkom, NHL director of officiating, it also means the puck doesn't deflect off another player other than the goaltender after bouncing off an on-ice official.
On Tuesday night, Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo shot the puck wildly and it bounced off the lower body of Peel, who was standing in the right corner of the zone. As he crumpled to the ice in pain, the puck traveled all the way to the Panthers' net, where it bounced off Luongo and in.
According to Walkom, that shot could have hit Peel, traveled 30 feet, hit off the post, hit off the goalie, hit off the crossbar and into the net, and it still wouldn't have been a goal unless the puck touched someone other than Luongo.
The Blues scored four goals in the third period to win 4-3.
That rule was clarified to the league's general managers last month after a similarly bizarre play between the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins on Oct. 30, when a puck cleared by defenseman Calvin de Haan hit referee Francois St. Laurent, deflected off Hurricanes forward Lucas Wallmark and went into the net. In that instance, the goal should have counted for the Bruins. The Bruins won 3-2.
While the GMs were made aware of the rule, many of the Blues players said that they were unaware of it when the goal was waved off, including Bortuzzo.
"I didn't know the rule obviously, so I put my hands in the air. I don't think a lot of people knew the rule," Bortuzzo told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "I went for a dump-in and I double-clutched it, so I changed my angle. I caught Peelzie and I felt bad, to be honest, shocked when it went in. Anytime you hit a ref, it's tough on them and I asked him if he was OK and maybe I'll buy him a dinner someday."
It would have been Bortuzzo's second goal of the season in 11 games played.
"He'll get over it," Blues coach Craig Berube said after the Blues' win. "I knew in the back of my mind that it wasn't a goal. But it's not a rule that most people know."