BOSTON — Shortly after Thursday night’s loss to the Florida Panthers, Claude Julien’s phone buzzed. It was a text from a fellow NHL coach, whom the Bruins bench boss chose not to name.
“It was, ‘WTF, how can that not be a goal?’ ” Julien said. “And that’s coming from somebody who’s neutral.”
The play that prompted the opposing coach to use that abbreviated expletive was a play that, if the Bruins continue their slide down the Eastern Conference standings, could come to define their season.
The Bruins were trailing the Panthers by a goal in a crucial Atlantic Division matchup at TD Garden when, with just under 12 minutes remaining in the third period, Patrice Bergeron gathered a rebound to the left of the Florida crease and blasted a shot toward goalie Roberto Luongo. The former Vancouver Canucks netminder covered the puck, and play was stopped.
Or did he? Replays appeared to show the puck come within centimeters of crossing the goal line between Luongo’s right leg pad and the post before he kicked it back out, prompting the on-ice officials to call for a video review.
(Here’s where we remind you that borderline calls rarely have gone the Bruins’ way this season. Julien’s squad had been burned by a half-dozen highly visible refereeing decisions in the previous three games alone, including three blatantly overlooked penalties in Friday’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks and two ticky-tack whistles and a controversially disallowed goal Wednesday in a loss to the New York Rangers.)
A lengthy deliberation ensued at the NHL’s replay headquarters in Toronto before a ruling was made that enraged Bruins players, coaches and supporters alike: “Video review was inconclusive in determining whether the puck completely crossed the Florida goal line. Therefore, the referee’s call on the ice stands — no goal Boston.”
The ruling elevated the decibel level inside TD Garden to its highest peak of the night — a night that also featured a well-deserved pregame tribute to Julien and Jumbotron appearances by several Boston sports giants, including Bill Belichick and David Ortiz. A few particularly ticked-off fans even tossed bottles and cans onto the ice surface.
And the Bruins, who had lost a season-high four in a row entering Thursday, could not recover. Jussi Jokinen scored less than three minutes later, and Jonathan Huberdeau followed with an empty-netter to put a ribbon on a demoralizing 4-1 Bruins loss that left Julien grasping for answers.
“You need to call the league, because I can’t explain it, either,” the coach said. “I’m as baffled as you are right now, and I’ve looked at it many times here before coming in here. It looks like it’s in. It looks very conclusive. That’s two in two games now.”
“I think it looked pretty clear that the puck was over the line,” added winger Brad Marchand, who was on the ice for the play in question. “I don’t know why it wasn’t. From the angle we saw there on the Jumbotron it looked pretty clear. So, it’s very frustrating. It would have been a 2-2 game, and we would have had the momentum, and then they scored shortly after that. So, it ended up ultimately costing us the game.”
The victimized team naturally is biased when it comes to questionable calls, and some of the ones the Bruins have taken issue with this season easily could have gone either way. This latest call, though…
We’ll just leave this photo, from Bruins photographer Brian Babineau, right here:
With the loss, the Bruins now trail the division-leading Panthers by five points and, even more importantly, lead the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings by just one with seven regular-season games remaining.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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