The Vancouver Canucks made a statement on Saturday night, taking on the top team in the Central Division, the Dallas Stars, and defeating them 2-0.
Only, maybe it should have been 3-0.
One of the signature moments of the game was a massive hit by Ian Cole on Matt Duchene, as the veteran defenceman pinched down the boards and flattened the Stars' centre with a clean check.
It was a huge hit that provided the capstone to a dominant second period for the Canucks. The hit and the subsequent fight with Mason Marchment stirred the Canucks' bench, getting them pumped up to close out the game in the third period.
"That was momentum," said head coach Rick Tocchet. "That was a big lift for our team. Coler, I've seen him do it before many times — hell of a hit and he fights for the team. That was a big thing for us, right there. The whole bench was up after that we started to play even better."
"At 34 years old, I don't know if I'll be fighting anybody," quipped J.T. Miller. "You just tip your cap to him. He's a beast, man. He makes so many good reads that you guys probably don't even see and he's a pleasure to play with. And he's been around, he's such a calming presence for us and a great teammate."
Lost in the fallout from the hit, however, was that Conor Garland scored a goal.
You can see it in the larger video of the hit at the seven-second mark: while everyone else stops playing as Marchment challenges Cole, Garland keeps going and fires a shot from a tight angle, beating a distracted Jake Oettinger through the legs.
Technically speaking, the puck went into the net before the ref's whistle blew — you can hear it in the video — so should the goal have counted?
Well, no. There are two rules in the NHL rulebook that cover this situation: Rule 31.2 and Rule 78.5.
Rule 31.2 states, "As there is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play, the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening."
Rule 78.5 reemphasizes how this affects potential goals: "Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee...when the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle."
Obviously, because Cole and Marchment were fighting, the ref blew the whistle to stop play and, even though the puck went in the net before the whistle blew, the ref intended to blow the whistle earlier and the goal didn't count.
But here's a question: if Cole had not dropped the gloves as Marchment went after him, would the situation have instead been a delayed penalty on Marchment? In that case, would the goal have counted, even if the Stars players were distracted?
It's a moot point, bringing Garland up to four points on the season — three real and one moot.
It's been a slow start to the season points-wise for Garland but he's quietly been one of the Canucks' best players, helping to drive some excellent puck possession results for the bottom-six forward group.
Garland leads all Canucks forwards in corsi percentage, as the Canucks have out-attempted their opponents 123-to-96 when he's been on the ice at 5-on-5 and out-scored their opponents 5-to-2. He's also been used in some high-leverage situations, playing in the final minute of tight games to close out the win, such as his puck pursuit against the Nashville Predators.
All that is to say, even if Garland didn't add to his point totals on Saturday night with the sneaky goal after Cole's hit, he's still been a contributor to their success this season.
Maybe it's a good thing his agent has yet to find a taker on the trade market.