NEW YORK — Pittsburgh Penguins Goalie Tristan Jarry essentially called the rule unnecessary. Captain Sidney Crosby called it a terrible rule. Head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t mince words when asked about the NHL rule, which requires a player to replace his helmet immediately or exit the ice if his helmet comes off.
It’s also a penalty to intentionally pull a player’s helmet off, just as it’s a penalty to play without it. The rule dramatically changed the game late in the third period of the New York Rangers’ 4-3 OT win over the Penguins in Game 7 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I think it stinks. He has to come off. His helmet got pulled off intentionally, but that’s the rule,” Sullivan said.
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Officials did not penalize Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere, who clearly grabbed at Marcus Pettersson’s helmet until it came off. It wasn’t easy. Pettersson’s chin strap kept the helmet on his head much longer than Lafreniere anticipated.
The incident happened well away from the puck, too. Interference? Technically, removing a player’s helmet is roughing, according to the rulebook.
The NHL rulebook under section 9.6 states: A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play shall be assessed a minor penalty if he does not exit the playing surface, or retrieve and replace his helmet properly on his head (with or without his chin strap fastened), within a reasonable period of time. It is reasonable if a player who is making a play on the puck or who is in the vicinity of the puck and engaged in the play at the time his helmet comes off, takes the opportunity to complete the play before either exiting the ice or retrieving and replacing his helmet.
Pettersson’s helmet finally spilled to the ice as Pettersson threw his hands up in frustration. There was not going to be a penalty in the waning minutes of regulation. The Penguins controlled the third period with a 3-2 lead after Evan Rodrigues’ brilliant shorthanded goal in the final minutes of the second.
“The feeling behind the bench was that we were in control of the game,” said Sullivan. “We were playing on our toes. We were playing the game the right way. But that’s hockey, I guess.”
The Rangers broadcast described the incident, “As Pettersson exits the ice, the Penguins lost their structure, and Mika Zbinejad took advantage.”
As Pettersson raced to the bench, the Penguins scrambled to recover. Zbinejad had enough space from the right-wing dot to unleash a perfect one-timer in the top corner. The goal tied the game with less than six minutes remaining.
“I think that’s a rule made by the NHL that could be changed. I don’t think many injuries happen when players play without helmets. I think it’s something that it’s cost us,” Jarry said. “I think that (if he doesn’t) lose his helmet, he comes back the net, and he plays the guy out front. I think that’s a nothing play.”
It was the precursor to the end of the Pittsburgh Penguins season and possibly the end of the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-Kris Letang era. Artemi Panarin scored another New York power play goal in OT for the winner.
None of the Penguins specifically blamed the helmet toss for the loss. You can’t do such things when you squander three leads in three games. Each could have put away the series.
But this time, they did everything right. They led 3-2 in the third period and were dominating the game.
“We played a great game tonight. We played some good hockey throughout the series. We didn’t get that next one tonight. That probably was a difference. But I think even though we had those leads, we still played the right way,” Crosby said. “But tonight was an example of one game, and anything can happen. And we didn’t get that extra goal there late in the game. And, you know, a terrible rule ends up probably being the difference in the game.”
And with a level of irony that only the NHL could muster, the Penguins lost in overtime when officials (rightfully) called Brock McGinn for holding on a Rangers breakaway chance.
Add that irony log to the contrast of the league and officials not protecting players’ heads as New York defensemen Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba delivered multiple headshots during the series, including to Crosby in Game 5.
A player can’t play without a helmet, but trying to squash the bits inside the helmet was largely unpenalized.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ penalty kill was anything but killer. New York’s power-play again blitzed the Penguins throughout Game 7. In the seven-game series, each Rangers power play had the feeling of riding a roller coaster without a seatbelt. The Penguins PK could only hang on until it was over, either by goal or time expiration.
In overtime, it was a goal, not expiration and the Penguins’ season is over.