Boston Bruins center Noel Acciari was barely back to his knees when he watched the Blues score their second goal of Thursday night’s Game 5. Acciari was upended moments prior in a collision with St. Louis Blues forward Tyler Bozak.
Bozak’s leg caught Acciari’s from behind, sweeping his feet out from under him. The St. Louis center turned immediately to referee Kelly Sutherland to protest, only to notice that the veteran official did not have his arm up to signal a penalty on the play.
Acciari remained down, and the Blues – taking advantage of the now-outnumbered Boston defense – scored what would be the eventual game-winning goal.
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Acciari was later pulled from the Blues bench for evaluation after being flagged by the league’s concussion spotters.
Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s head of officiating, commented on the non-call:
“We don’t make comments on judgment calls within games. There are hundreds of judgment calls in every game. The official on the play, he viewed it and he didn’t view it as a penalty at the time.”
Of course, that doesn’t answer much. Was Sutherland’s view partially obstructed? Did he consider the trip accidental, and therefore not a penalty? Or when Walkom says he ‘didn’t view it as a penalty at the time’ are we to infer that he may have felt differently after seeing a replay?
The two rules to consider on this play are tripping and slew-footing.
57.1 Tripping – A player shall not place the stick, knee, foot, arm, hand or elbow in such a manner that causes his opponent to trip or fall.
Accidental trips which occur simultaneously with a completed play will not be penalized. Accidental trips occurring simultaneously with or after a stoppage of play will not be penalized.
57.2 Minor Penalty – A minor penalty shall be imposed on any player who shall place his stick or any portion of his body in such a manner that it shall cause his opponent to trip and fall.
It’s the second sentence of the tripping rule that offers a gray area around intent, giving officials leeway to not penalize trips they deem to be accidental and occurring simultaneous with a completed play.
52.1 Slew-footing – Slew-footing is the act of a player using his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent’s feet from under him, or pushes an opponent’s upper body backward with an arm or elbow, and at the same time with a forward motion of his leg, knocks or kicks the opponent’s feet from under him, causing him to fall violently to the ice.
52.2 Match Penalty – Any player who is guilty of slew-footing shall be assessed a match penalty.
Note that the NHL’s definition of a slewfoot, unlike that of USA Hockey, does not require a backwards force exerted on the upper body. Slewfooting can only be called as a match penalty in the NHL.
In any case, the two teams played on. Despite the apparent injury to Acciari, the officials allowed play to continue as the Blues had control of the puck, per Rule 8.1. Seconds later, that puck was in the net.
Acciari spoke about the play after the game.
“It’s a missed call I think, and it has a big outcome in the game, and they scored a goal off of it, and that ends up being the game-winner,” said Acciari. “Just kind of embarrassing.”
“It’s a missed call,” he reiterated. “Biggest stage of hockey right now, and, yeah. I don’t know what else I can say about it.”
Boston defenseman Torey Krug was more definitive in his response.
“That’s a penalty every time, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Krug said. “I’m all for letting us play, but when it leads to scoring chances and the opposing team ends up with the puck, it should be going our way. It should be a penalty. They missed one there.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy shared his players sentiment.
“We thought we got screwed, and you gotta keep playing,” said Cassidy. “We did. We scored the next goal, gave ourselves a chance to win, so we tried to rally around that.”
The Bruins, though, just couldn’t complete the comeback, dropping Game 5 by a score of 2-1.