What was debatable, at least for a split second before referee Tom Kowal's hands washed it out, was whether Hartnell was pushed into Brodeur by Volchenkov or made contact by his own #HartnellDown style.
With 40.1 seconds left in the 65th game of the Flyers' season - and a potential playoff spot hinging on the goal - Kowal went with his gut. He ruled no goal, and the Devils held on for a 2-1 victory last night at the Wells Fargo Center.
"I know they have a tough decision to make in a split second, but . . . " Jake Voracek said, before trailing off. "For me, it's a goal. It was a shock for me. I mean how, with the playoffs on the line, do you make a call like that? It's [bleeping] incredible. Sorry for the language, but it's a joke."
Volchenkov said he "didn't really push" Hartnell. "There are rules, you can't touch the goalie," Volchenkov said.
Once Kowal signaled no-goal, there was nothing the NHL or the Flyers could do to change the ruling on the ice. The NHL's "War Room" in Toronto even contacted Kowal, upon seeing the video, to confirm his call. The league's reviewers could not overrule him.
"At 19:20 of the third period, the Situation Room initiated a video review because the puck entered the New Jersey net," the NHL said in a statement. "The referee informed the Situation Room that Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell pushed goaltender Martin Brodeur across the goal line with the puck. This is not a reviewable play, therefore the referee's call on the ice stands - no penalty and no goal Philadelphia."
The NHL referenced Rule 78.5 (ix): "Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the referee when a goaltender has been pushed into the net together with the puck after making a save." It was a split-second judgment call.
Kowal, 46, called his first NHL game on Jan. 28, 2000 and is a veteran of more than 700 games. He declined a request for comment.
Deflated and exasperated, the Flyers never got close to touching Brodeur again over the final 40.1 seconds. Their 12th third-period comeback of the season would have to wait for another night.
"It's a 50-50 play," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "He probably was [pushed] a little bit. It's a 50-50 play. It could have gone either way. Refs have a tough job. They try to do the best they can."
The lost point was crippling for the Flyers, who are about to embark on a 17-game land mine of a schedule over the final 30 days of the season. They have the NHL's second-toughest remaining schedule in terms of point percentage.
"It definitely wasn't our best game," Hartnell said. "It would have been nice to get a point, though."
This was one of those "winnable'' games on the Flyers' slate. They had a chance to give New Jersey's playoff chances a formidable blow, but now they've only further jumbled the standings.
The Flyers didn't score once on six power-play chances. They opened the game with one of their best power plays of the season - and ended it in the final minutes with a flurry of chances, but couldn't solve Brodeur, who earned his 50th career win against the Flyers. It was the 29th time in 92 games vs. the Flyers (27-1-1) that Brodeur allowed one goal or less.
"It's a tough loss," Berube said. "Our team battled hard. It was obviously a good game. Our team competed hard. We didn't score enough goals. Six power plays, you've got to make it happen."
Just about the only saving grace for the Flyers was that the Rangers, the team they're chasing for second place in the Metropolitan Division, lost in Carolina. Columbus beat Detroit to pull ahead of the Flyers for third place in the division, bumping them into the second wild-card spot behind Tampa Bay. And the Devils are still breathing.
"It's not about Marty on that goal, it's just about the referee that made [that call]," Voracek said. "I'm not going to cry here about the goal. But with 40 seconds left in the game, you better be pretty damn sure to make that call."
Scott Hartnell played his 500th game as a Flyer, ranking him 31st on the franchise's all-time games-played list . . . Jaromir Jagr's first-period assist was the 1,043rd of his career, leaving him just six behind Gordie Howe for eighth all-time in the NHL. Jagr scored the winning goal 7:42 into the third period . . . Nick Grossmann tied a career high with his 12th point of the year, his first goal since March 20, 2013.
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