With 12:07 left in the third period of last night's Game 3, the Sabres were up two men thanks to a silly penalty by Darroll Powe. The Flyers were clinging to a one-goal lead and Buffalo was knocking at the door -- quite literally, if by "door" you mean "Brian Boucher's face."
A point-blank shot from Tyler Ennis hit Boosh right in the mask, snapping a strap on the back of the helmet. Boosh then flipped the mask off his face. He explained the incident during his press conference after the game.
I got hit there and it broke the buckle there, the strap, so the mask was loose. I just felt like it was kind of unsafe. The mask was moving around on my face. I've seen other goalies flip their mask off. I didn't know what would happen, but the referee said it was the right play and it was fine.
It worked in our favor I think. It wasn't intentional. It wasn't like I un-did the strap and was looking to do this. It just so happened I was going across and made a save and it knocked the mask off. It worked in our favor I think.
It certainly did work in the Flyers favor, as the officials stopped play, eliminating any momentum the Sabres had with the two-man edge. The penalties were killed, and this whole sequence very well could have been the turning point of the game. It was the best chance the Sabres had at tieing things up between that point and the end of the game.
But was the right call made? Let's look at the rulebook a bit deeper.
We all know that when the goaltender's mask comes off of his head, the whistle blows immediately, right? Well, kind of. When the goalie's team has the puck, this is always the case. When the opposing team has the puck, it's not so cut-and-dry. Rule 9.5:
When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has possession of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has possession of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee.
Your interpretation of this rule likely depends on your definition of "immediate and impending scoring opportunity," and I'm comfortable saying that Ennis holding the puck in the corner doesn't fall under the correct definition. If I'm a Sabres fan, though, I might argue that any puck control deep in the offensive end with a two-man advantage constitutes an impending scoring chance. (Luckily for me, I'm not a Sabres fan. Thanks, birth location!)
Let's go with the assumption that there was no impending scoring chance here and that the right call was made. Moving on to the next portion of Rule 9.5:
When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game.
There's no doubt that Boucher deliberately removed his helmet, but was it to secure a stoppage in play, or was it to simply free his vision from bouncy head gear? If you take his word for it in his post-game comments, he truly didn't know what would happen as a result of the mask flip, and that the latter assessment is true.
But we all know Boosh (or anybody, really) would never admit to flipping off the mask to get that whistle. If he truly did it to secure a stoppage, he should have picked up a penalty even if his mask was broken, because Rule 63.2 doesn't care about your broken helmet, man.
No delay shall be permitted for the repair or adjustment of goalkeeper's equipment. If adjustments are required, the goalkeeper shall leave the ice and his place shall be taken by the substitute goalkeeper immediately. For an infraction of this rule by a goalkeeper, a minor penalty shall be imposed.
This is certainly a bit at odds with Rule 9.5 on the subject. If the mask breaks and falls off, the whistle has to blow play dead, but at the same time, no delay is allowed for the repair of that mask. A whistle would definitely fall under the definition of "delay," would it not?
Then again, he can't just skate off the ice without delay. He's a goalie. What else is he supposed to do?
It seems like this comes down to two things. If you trust Boucher's assessment of the situation, he wasn't looking for an edge and the official got the right call. If referee Paul Devorski, standing five feet from this whole situation as it played out, trusted Boucher, then I think we can all trust him on it.
But in terms of that second part, there's not much clarity. Can a goalie cause a delay in the game because of an equipment issue? The rules say no, but last night's situation and logic say yes.