When The Rules Decide It

Yesterday's disallowed goal stings, but I don't think it was controversial.

It was July 2, 2010. Ghana and Uruguay had played a thrilling quarter-final World Cup match that wasn't decided after 90 minutes. As extra time wore on, Ghana took more and more control of the game. Uruguay seemed to be hanging on until penalties, hoping to progress. In the dying seconds of extra time, it appeared that Ghana had its goal, as Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball over keeper Fernando Muslera after a scramble. However, Luis Suárez proceeded to do this (feel free to mute the music):

In case it wasn't clear, Suárez two-hand chopped the ball off the goal line. He got a red card, and Ghana got a penalty. Asamoah Gyan's penalty hit the crossbar. That would end the match, and Uruguay would advance on penalties.

To be fair to Suárez, he did what the rules told him to. The problem is that the rules are flawed. The NHL introduced Rule 25 (Awarded Goals) to combat situations where a penalty shot wasn't sufficient punishment. A penalty shot is awarded if a player is hauled down a breakaway. However, if the goalie is caught out of his net, and a player dislodges their own net as another player is shooting, a goal is awarded under Rule 25. The NHL realized that the two infractions deserved different results. Earlier in the 2010 World Cup, Harry Kewell had got a red card and given up a penalty when the ball struck his arm on the goal-line. The rules are clear on this matter: it's a red card because he denied a goal with his hand. The fact that Suárez's infraction was deliberate made no difference. He got punished according to the full extent of the law. It's an indictment of the rules that they encouraged him to handle the ball. That play convinced me that soccer needed to imitate the NHL and develop a "penalty goal" rule.

I was extremely deflated after that game. As a huge fan (and former resident) of Ghana, I was on the verge of seeing history made. Ghana would've been the first African team in the final four, and they were denied by a poor rule. You hate to see a match decided by stupid rules, especially in an elimination game.

Yesterday reminded me a bit of that game. The Senators failed to score on Carey Price through 43 shots. Except that their 44th shot beat him, but the goal was disallowed because of a quick whistle.

The rules say that a goal can't be scored after the whistle goes, even if the whistle was erroneous. You hate to a see a game decided by the rules. But, when compared to that soccer-based intro, I didn't feel the same yesterday. It was annoying, but it wasn't infuriating. Chris Lee made a mistake in blowing the whistle quickly. He was in a bad place to see the puck. But, it was the kind of mistake that happens fairly often. The issue with a quick whistle is that it can save a goalie when the puck's still loose. The issue with a long whistle is that scrums develop, and sometimes the puck is knocked loose from a goalie who actually had it covered. Neither is always the right choice. Throughout a season, a team will be both be burned and helped by a referee's decision. Andrew Hammond got a shutout against the L.A. Kings because of a quick whistle that overturned a second-period goal. Does Ottawa go on this run without that win? Who knows.

In the end, I don't think Ottawa lost because of a flaw in the rules. The goal didn't count because a ref made a mistake. That happens. There's no one trying to screw the Sens, no rules that need fixing. As much as you hate to admit it, refereeing mistakes are part of the current NHL, and will be unless everything becomes reviewable by video.

I'm as disappointed as the next person. You hate to see a game decided by a technicality. But I'm not angry. As Justin Williams said after that Kings game, "You don't win or lose the game on one call. You win it by the whole body of work in the game." Carey Price's body of work won his team the game.

(Stick tap to my sister, who first pointed out the comparison of these games to me.)

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