The Norfolk Admirals have already enjoyed a pretty remarkable season.
After losing in Springfield on Super Bowl Sunday, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate did not lose again in the regular season, finishing the year on a record 28-game win streak.
They’ve continued that success in the playoffs, going 14-3 so far to move within one victory of hoisting the Calder Cup for the first time in franchise history. The next win, which could come in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Final in Toronto on Saturday, would be a momentous moment for the Admirals, but it is how Thursday’s Game 3 ended that will always be the most memorable.
Through all their victories this season, Norfolk never had one like this. Heck, it’s quite possible no team in hockey history has ever had a win quite like the Admirals’ 1-0 overtime victory over the Marlies.
After battling to a scoreless stalemate through regulation, the first time a Calder Cup Final game had been scoreless through regulation since 1962, both teams knew their fate could come down to a single bounce. Norfolk got that bounce, in a most unexpected way.
At 9:09 of the sudden-death extra session, Norfolk defenseman Mike Kostka fired in a hard dump-in from center ice. The puck hit a stanchion along the boards and deflected into the empty net, as Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens had come out of his crease to play the puck going around the boards behind the net.
It was the most painful run-in with a stanchion since Zdeno Chara introduced Max Pacioretty to one in Montreal, and Marlies coach Dallas Eakins may have preferred getting the Chara treatment himself over losing a huge playoff game in that fashion.
“I would rather someone take a pair of steel-toed boots and hit me in a delicate region than to lose a hockey game like that,” Eakins told the Canadian Press. “That is a tough way to lose in the playoffs — off a stanchion — after our boys battled so hard. I can never recall in any kind of league final a puck going in like that.”
Even Norfolk coach Jon Cooper felt his opponents’ pain, though his sympathy pangs were located a little higher in the midsection.
“I’m sick to my stomach for Scrivens,” Cooper told the CP of the Marlies netminder, who still earned first-star honors for his 30-save effort. “That was a tough break for the kid. But I’d rather obviously go in our favor instead of theirs. In saying that… I thought we actually earned it.”
Maybe not, as the AHL admitted on Friday that the goal should not have counted. Kostka’s dump-in came before all the Admirals had cleared the Toronto zone. The goal should have been waved off on a delayed offsides call, but the game officials misinterpreted the rule.
And while it won’t make Scrivens and the rest of the Marlies feel any better, the AHL did at least admit the mistake on Friday.
“We have spoken with Toronto Marlies management and confirmed that a rules interpretation error by the on-ice officials occurred on the Norfolk Admirals’ overtime goal during Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals,” AHL President and CEO David Andrews said in a statement. “On the play, a dump-in from center ice by a Norfolk player caromed off a stanchion and into the Toronto net. The correct application of AHL Rule 83.4 would have negated the Norfolk goal due to a delayed offside call.”
The ruling won’t help the Marlies though. There are no do-overs in professional hockey, and Thursday’s result will stand despite the mistake on the winning goal.
“As AHL By-Laws do not allow for any change to the final result of a game based on an incorrect rule interpretation,” Andrews added in the statement. “The result of the game stands.”
And with that, this Norfolk Admirals squad that has already made history this season will get to add one of the strangest entries into the annals after moving within one win of a title without even scoring a legal goal.