The NHL is investigating whether human error or a glitch in the clock system at Staples Center was responsible for prolonging the Kings' game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday long enough for Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to score the decisive goal in a 3-2 victory.
Colin Campbell, the league's senior vice president of hockey operations, said Thursday he believes the Blue Jackets were wronged because the clock was paused with 1.8 seconds left in the third period and Doughty's goal with 0.4 of a second left should not have been allowed. "In our opinion it was one full second," Campbell said of the stoppage.
The decision won't make much difference to 30th-ranked Columbus but could prove crucial for the Kings, who are battling for a playoff spot.
In determining playoff seedings when teams are tied, wins gained in a shootout are subtracted from each team's win total and the greater win total gets the better seeding. Had Doughty's goal been disallowed, the game might have gone to the tiebreaker, potentially reducing the Kings' wins in regulation and overtime.
The pause was not immediately seen by officials in the NHL's Toronto situation room, where every goal is reviewed. Campbell said the initial concern in Toronto was to determine whether the puck had crossed the goal line before time expired, according to the clock burned into the corner of the footage they saw. Not until later did they back up the frame-by-frame footage to the moment the clock stopped. Seeing that hesitation with 1.8 seconds left convinced Campbell that Columbus had gotten a bad deal.
"When you look at it, regulation was over when L.A. scored, so yes they did," Campbell said in a phone conversation. "They didn't have the opportunity to get a point for a tie game. They didn't get a point from the tie game, which they would have got, and they weren't afforded the opportunity to go for an extra point in overtime or a shootout."
Campbell said the league had contacted the clock's manufacturer, Daktronics, to determine whether the clock was at fault and will send technicians to Staples Center to examine the clock and the system. He also said the NHL will send a representative to Los Angeles to meet with the off-ice officials, who are employed by the league. That crew includes the person designated the game timekeeper Wednesday — whom Campbell would not identify — as well as the official scorer, penalty timekeeper and others.
Although Campbell said he believed there had been other problems with the Staples Center clock involving basketball games, Staples Center spokesman Michael Roth said he was unaware of such difficulties.
Columbus General Manager Scott Howson posted a blog on the team's website criticizing the process that allowed the goal to stand and emphasizing how important the extra point for the win could be for the Kings. That blog was later removed.
In the post he stated: "It is an amazing coincidence that with the Kings on a power play at Staples Center and with a mad scramble around our net in the dying seconds of the third period of a 2-2 hockey game that the clock stopped for at least one full second. I can only think of two ways in which this would have happened. Either there was a deliberate stopping of the clock or the clock malfunctioned. …
"This result matters to every other team in the Western Conference that is competing with Los Angeles for a playoff spot. We will never know if the Kings would have got the extra point in overtime or shootout, but they may not have. This extra point in the standings could have an enormous impact both competitively and economically. What if the Kings make the playoffs by one point or gain home ice advantage by one point? We could be talking about a team not making the playoffs and missing out on millions of dollars in playoff games. No one can ever convince me that this result does not matter."
Campbell said investigating the incident is crucial to maintaining trust and credibility in Los Angeles and every other arena in which NHL games are played.
"We have to pursue two areas," Campbell said. "There's a human element, where a fellow's operating the clock. And was there a human mistake here? So was there human error in this case? Is he watching the play? Did he think there was a high stick? Did he think there was a hand pass and he accidentally stopped it and started it? Or was there an error in the Daktronics clock?
"We've talked to the Daks people. We've also asked them if it's humanly possible to stop the clock and start it in just one second."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said during his weekly radio show Thursday that the incident was "not good, not acceptable," but said the league had no evidence it occurred as the result of bias on the part of the timekeeper.
"If we had any reason to believe that this was intentional we would deal with it in a whole different way, but we're going to investigate it, get to the bottom of it," he said.
Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said via email that the clock was correct and no extra time had been added.
"Those clocks are sophisticated instruments that calculate time by measuring electrical charges called coulombs," he said. "Given the rapidity and volume of electrons that move through the measuring device the calibrator must adjust at certain points, which was the delay you see. The delay is just recalibrating for the clock moving too quickly during the 10-10ths of a second before the delay.
"This ensures that the actual playing time during a period is exactly 20 minutes. That is not an opinion. That is science. Amazing device, quite frankly."
Campbell downplayed Lombardi's comment. "I read it and it sounded interesting," Campbell said.