With the scored tied at 2-2, van Riemsdyk broke away with his team shorthanded in the final 30 seconds of regulation time. It appeared as if Toronto’s second leading scorer had the game on his stick with an excellent opportunity to secure the victory with a shorthanded goal in the final minute. However, van Riemsdyk was caught by D’Agostini just before he could get a shot off as the Sabre knocked the puck away to prevent a game-winning goal for Toronto.
The play was somewhat controversial as D’Agostini took out van Riemsdyk’s legs and tripped the Maple Leaf winger just after he was able to knock the puck away. Toronto’s bench exploded in an uproar as the officials made the right decision by not calling a penalty or even a penalty-shot on the play. Although D’Agostini did clearly trip van Riemsdyk on the play, he was able to make contact with the puck before making contact with van Riemsdyk.
NHL rules state that if a defender is able to make contact with the puck before the body, whatever happens afterwards doesn’t matter. Despite the Maple Leafs being upset there was no call on the play, the officials followed what the rule book says and made the right decision by not awarding a penalty.
However, that still doesn’t mean the rule makes a lot of sense considering it’s probably not the safest thing to have defenders recklessly diving at opposing players’ legs as they try to knock the puck away. D’Agostini was able to hit the puck first, but van Riemsdyk was taken out hard and it’s lucky the Maple Leaf forward wasn’t injured on the play.
The rule needs to be changed to allow more discretion by the officials to determine if tripping a player on a dive to hit the puck should be a penalty. The league shouldn’t make the rule straight forward by calling any trip a penalty; they should still allow room for defenders to make great plays even if the opposing player falls down.
For example, it shouldn’t be a penalty if a defender dives and knocks the puck away only to have the offensive player fall due to the follow-through from the defender’s stick. If the defender can swipe the puck away with his stick before making contact with the offensive player then it shouldn’t be a penalty. However, if the defender’s body comes into contact with the offensive player as he attempts to dive at the puck, regardless of if he knocks the puck away first or not, it should be a penalty. Neither scenario is necessarily safe, but tripping over a stick is a lot safer than a sliding body colliding with a player’s legs.
Defenders shouldn’t be given a free pass when it comes to diving to break up breakaway opportunities. If a defender hits a puck away 0.1 seconds before hitting the opposition they should still be held responsible for their actions. In D’Agostini’s case, he did knock the puck away before he collided with van Riemsdyk, but he wasn’t held responsible for his actions. Despite taking out a player at the legs during a key moment in the game, D’Agostini didn’t receive a penalty because he hit the puck less than half a second before he hit van Riemsdyk.
It wasn’t a controversial play because the refs made the right call. However, it was an example of a bad rule that probably won’t be changed until somebody gets seriously hurt.