What's the story behind Brett Hull's famous "no goal" in Buffalo?

Brett Hull
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Question: What's the story behind Brett Hull's famous "no goal" in Buffalo?

I keep hearing that the Dallas Stars "stole" the 1999 Stanley Cup because of Brett Hull's skate position on the final goal. What's the real scoop on that call?
- Michelle, Dallas

Answer: There will never be an explanation to this one that satisfies everyone. But at risk of setting off tempers among Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres fans, here goes:

You're talking about the goal scored in triple overtime of Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final, giving Dallas a 2-1 victory over Buffalo and delivering the Stars their first championship.

The first thing you need to know is that the rule that caused all the trouble no longer exists. At the time, players were not allowed in the goalie's crease unless the puck was already there. Here's how the rule was worded:

"Unless the puck is in the goal crease area, a player of the attacking side may not stand in the goal crease. If a player has entered the crease prior to the puck, and subsequently the puck should enter the net while such conditions prevail, the apparent goal shall not be allowed."

This rule was strictly enforced, using video review. Players carrying the puck were allowed to take it into the crease (as long as they didn't interfere with the goalie). But if any player on the attacking team arrived in the crease before the puck, it was no goal. This helped protect goalies, but too many goals were disallowed because players inadvertently had the toe of a skate in the crease before a teammate scored. It was a dumb, frustrating rule.

When Brett Hull scored his early morning Cup-winner in June, it looked like a classic case of no goal:

  • Hull shoots; Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek saves.
  • The rebound bounces outside the crease.
  • With his skate, Hull kicks the puck forward to his stick. But as he is kicking the puck, his left skate slides into the blue paint. If you freeze that moment, Hull is guilty. He's in the crease, the puck isn't.
  • With his left skate planted in the crease, Hull shoots again. This time he scores. The Stars celebrate, the Sabres freak out.

    So how did the NHL justify the decision to let the goal stand? Here's what Bryan Lewis, NHL Supervisor of Officials, had to say:

    "A puck that rebounds off the goalie, the goal post or an opposing player is not deemed to be a change of possession, and therefore Hull would be deemed to be in possession or control of the puck, allowed to shoot and score a goal even though the one foot would be in the crease in advance of the puck.

    "Hull had possession and control of the puck. The rebound off the goalie does not change anything. It is his puck then to shoot and score albeit a foot may or may not be in the crease prior to."

    "Did he or did he not have possession and control? Our view was yes, he did. He played the puck from his foot to his stick, shot and scored."

    So in the NHL's view, the entire sequence - shot, rebound, kick, second shot - constitutes one instance of "possesion" by Brett Hull. As long as he and the puck are one, his presence in the crease is not illegal.

    I'm afraid that's as clear as I can make it. It's all very murky. Throughout the season, goals very similar to Hull's had been disallowed. Considering all the evidence, I conclude that the league blew the call and then scrambled like hell to cover its ass.

    So does that mean the Stars "stole" the Stanley Cup? Not at all. Officiating is not a science. Refereeing mistakes are part of the game. Argentina won soccer's World Cup on a goal that should have been called back. The Patriots needed a suspicious call to get to the Super Bowl. An umpire's mistake probably cost the St. Louis Cardinals a World Series.

    It's not much comfort to Sabres' fans. But nobody ever said justice was perfect.