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Canucks take issue with aggressive positioning of Bruins Thomas

Canucks take issue with aggressive positioning of Bruins Thomas
Boston Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas

Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas plays well outside the blue ice at times, which has the Canucks worried about goalie interference penalties. (Scott Slingsby photo)

The Vancouver Canucks weren’t surprised by how well Boston goalie Tim Thomas played in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.


They did, however, take some issue with where he played.

Coach Alain Vigneault was one of several Canucks to bring up Thomas’s aggressive positioning well outside his crease before Game 2 on Saturday, complaining specifically about a tripping penalty to Alex Burrows for bumping him beyond the blue paint. But as Thomas and Bruins coach Claude Julien both pointed out, the goalie’s right to stop the puck unimpeded is not limited to the crease.

“I have the right to go anywhere there’s open ice,” said Thomas, who made 33 saves – many of them spectacular – before Raffi Torres scored the only goal of Game 1 on Wednesday night with 18.5 seconds left to play. “If I’m set I have a right to that ice. If I’m out of the paint and I’m set, I also have the right-of-way to get back to the crease. That’s the way I understand it.”

There’s no doubting Thomas, who along with Canucks counterpart Roberto Luongo is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie, is more aggressive than most. He relies on his ability to read and react to plays from his skates rather than playing the more passive on-the-knees butterfly style common today. Thomas, whose style was labeled “battle-fly” by teammate Patrice Bergeron, will also challenge shooters two or three feet outside his crease. And he is willing to battle for that position because he knows his 5-foot-11 frame doesn’t take up enough space if he sits back in his net like the 6-foot-3 Luongo.

Rule 69 – Interference on the Goalkeeper
69.1 Interference on the Goalkeeper – This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed. Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgment of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.

For purposes of this rule, “contact,” whether incidental or otherwise, shall mean any contact that is made between or among a goalkeeper and attacking player(s), whether by means of a stick or any part of the body.

The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

If a defending player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by an attacking player so as to cause the defending player to come into contact with his own goalkeeper, such contact shall be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, and if necessary a penalty assessed to the attacking player and if a goal is scored it would be disallowed.

“I just play my game,” said Thomas, who has drawn just three goaltender interference penalties in 19 playoff games, though like the Burrows call, not all may be recorded that way. “It’s not always in the blue.”

The Canucks don’t seem to have a problem with that – as long as they aren’t penalized for being there too. That appeared to be the case on Burrows’ penalty, but Daniel Sedin wasn’t punished for knocking Thomas flat _ after a push by defenseman Andrew Ference. Ryan Kesler, who sets screens on Vancouver’s power play, continuously looked at his skates to make sure he wasn’t in the crease.

“I mean 90 per cent of his saves are outside the blue paint,” Vigneault said. “A lot of times he does initiate contact. That’s the way he plays. We said last night that we were going to look to get a little bit of clarification.”

Vigneault may not like what he finds. As Thomas suggested – and contrary to the popular cries of “he’s out of his crease” anytime a call is made against a player bumping an aggressive goalie – Rule 69.4 states that “a goalkeeper is not ‘fair game’ just because he is outside the goal crease,’ and the onus is on the attacking player not to make “unnecessary contact.”

“The rule is pretty clear. You’re entitled to your ice,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “If he steps out and he’s got that ice, he’s entitled to it. We all know goaltenders are to be protected. If you’re going to say he’s out of his crease, he’s fair game that should be the same thing behind the net.”

Canucks’ backup Cory Schneider knows the rules as well as anyone, but also understands it becomes less clear cut – and more of a judgement call for the referees in terms of penalties and disallowed goals – when you play well outside the crease.

“He’s kind of putting himself in a vulnerable position,’’ Schneider, who like Luongo has backed further into his crease this season, said of Thomas. “Yeah, you’ve got to respect the goalie, he’s trying to get his space and make saves and play his style, but at the same time you have to respect our guys who are trying to do their job in front of the net. Just because he runs into us, if we get a penalty for that, I don’t know what our guys are supposed to do about that. It’s kind of a Catch-22. I don’t know what they’re going to do about it but I think they should definitely look at it.’’

Julien pointed out the rules are the same for Luongo, which is ironic because his struggles with congestion outside the crease during last year’s playoffs led in part to the Canucks changing how he plays. Under new goalie coach Roland Melanson, Luongo is deeper in his net now, which not only shortens the distances he has to move his size-13 skates, but also keeps him out of traffic.

So rather than worrying about fighting through 6-foot-9 Boston Zdeno Chara atop the crease on the Bruins’ power play, Luongo only has to worry about seeing around him. And after struggling to recover on rebounds because he got tangled up with crease-crashing opponents last season, Luongo now finds less resistance as he slides around on his knees to square up to second chances.

“Roberto played sort of the same way last year,” Vigneault said. “We got in trouble because of that. We fixed that this year.”

As for Thomas’s tendency to charge out of his net, the Canucks believe they can target it for goals. His challenge on Jannik Hansen left Torres with an empty net driving backdoor for the game’s only goal late on Wednesday.

“We can’t take runs at him even though he’s outside,” Hansen said. “It’s a matter of being careful. If he’s out there, there should be room around him and behind him. So it’s something we can take advantage of as well.”

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.


  1. Tortilla Crunch

    Great, yet another grey area to frustrate players, coaches, and fans.

  2. Bryan

    I don’t see what the controversy is. The fact that he’s a goalie isn’t even relevant in the case of the Burrows penalty, IMO. It’s still interference.

  3. Matt in Montreal

    He was slew-footed and his aggressive play outside the crease resulted in the game-winning goal.

    What’s the prob?

  4. Cam Martell

    I see Complain Vigneault is living up to his nickname.

  5. Dan Anderson

    Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo are both finalists for the Vezina, Thomas will win it in a land slide.

  6. bobus

    Look, the goalie is never fair game when out of the crease. Tripping and slashing apply just the same. The part where Thomas thinks he has a right to get back into the crease is BS, once he leaves the blue paint that ice belongs just as much to the forward.