What Exactly is Goaltender Interference in the NHL?

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports

What is goaltender interference in the NHL? It’s a question that’s been asked for a long time. The conversation has picked up considerable steam again over the past few days, as there have been two challenges for it in the Boston Bruins-Carolina Hurricanes series. I’m a firm believer the referees got them both right according to the rules. That’s not just because I’m a Bruins fan. This is an article I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Given the recent controversies, I thought not would be the perfect time to do it. I’ll be breaking down the official rule as well as explaining why each challenge went the way it did in the series.

The Official Rule


All four above pictures taken from the official rulebook on NHL.com. Click here to see it.

The official rules, taken straight from the NHL’s rulebook, can be seen above. Click on the pictures to expand them so you can read it easier. Here’s everything you need to know about each on in simpler terms:


The goaltender interference rule is based on the premise that an attacking player is interfering with the ability of the goalie to make a save. Goals will only be disallowed if an attacking player, either by his positioning or by making contact with the goalie, interferes with the goalie’s ability to freely move in the crease/defend the goal, or a player initiates deliberate contact with the goaltender, within in the crease or out of it. Accidental contact is allowed if the contact is outside of the crease and the attacking player did his best to avoid it.

 If an attacking player has been pushed or otherwise directed into the goaltender by a defending player, that contact is deemed accidental as long as the attacking player made an effort to avoid it. If a defending player is pushed or otherwise directed into the goaltender by an attacking player, that is ruled intentional contact and is not allowed.


Regardless of whether it is inside or outside of the crease, or whether or not a goal is scored, if a player deliberately makes contact with a goal, they will receive a penalty. That penalty can either be a minor (two minutes) or a major (five minutes) at the discretion of the referee. The ref should give more weight to the degree and nature of the contact over where it occurred.


If an attacking player initiates contact with a goaltender in the goal crease and a goal is scored, it will not count. This is regardless of whether or not it was accidental. Also, if a goaltender initiates contact with an attacking player in his crease while trying to establish his position within it, and it affects his ability to make the save, any goal scored will be disallowed. If, after making contact with a goalie who is trying to establish his position within the crease, a player does not immediately move, a penalty will be assessed, and if a goal is scored, it will be disallowed.

If an attacking player takes up a significant position within the crease in an attempt to block the goalie’s view or otherwise affect his ability to defend the goal and a goal is scored, it will be disallowed. For the purposes of this rule, a player takes up a “significant position” in the crease if at least a major portion of his body is in the crease for more than an instant.


If an attacking player initiates contact outside of the crease, with the exception of accidental contact, and a goal is scored, it will not count. Essentially, a goalie isn’t fair game because he’s outside the crease (looking at you, Milan Lucic). In any case where a player makes unnecessary contact with the goalie, a penalty will be assessed.

However, if the goalie is outside the crease and is in the process of playing the puck and accidental contact is made, it will be allowed, as long as the player tried to avoid it. If an attacking player interferes with a goalie’s ability to return to the crease after playing the puck, a penalty will be assessed. Also, if a goalie interferes with an attacking player’s ability to play the puck or a defender, he’ll be assessed a penalty.


Coach’s Challenge, which is rule 38 in the book. In short, a coach is allowed to challenge a play for goaltender interference. The only way a call on the ice will be overturned is if there is determined to be conclusive evidence that erases any shred of doubt that the call on the ice was not the correct one. If a coach loses the challenge, a bench minor (two minutes) penalty will be assessed for delay of game. If the coach loses any more challenges in the game, a double-minor (four minutes) is assessed for delay of game.


If play is stopped to disallow a goal because of any sort of contact (meaning accidental or intentional) with the goalie, the resulting face-off will take place in the nearest neutral zone faceoff dot outside the offending team’s attacking zone.


In a rebound situation, accidental contact with the goalie is allowed if the player and goalie are trying to make a play on the puck at the same time. This is regardless of whether it is inside or outside of the crease. If a goalie is pushed into the net with the puck deliberately by an attacking player after he makes a save, the goal will be disallowed. If the referee sees it fit, a penalty will also be assessed. But, if an attacking player is pushed or otherwise directed into the goalie by a defending player, which causes him to push the goalie and the puck into the net, the goal will count.

If a player on the puck in the crease, a goal can’t be scored by pushing him into the net. If it’s deemed necessary, a penalty will be assessed. A penalty shot is also possible if it’s determined the player intentionally covered the puck in the crease.


If a player initiates contact with a goalie in a manner that would warrant a penalty, one will be assessed. The penalty can be a minor or a major and/or a game misconduct at the discretion of the referee. This is regardless of whether or not the contact takes place in the crease. The player may also be subject to additional fines or a suspension.

BOS-CAR Series Challenge Results

Game 1, Challenge of Boston’s Second Goal

This was also the most controversial one. But, I truly believe the refs got it right, and it’s not just because I’m a Bruins fan and it went my way. Carolina’s head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, certainly did not agree with me, and you can read about that here. But anyway, he chose to challenge this play for a hand pass. It was deemed that Hurricanes’ goaltender Petr Mrazek had possession of the puck after it was batted down by Ritchie. This negated the hand pass, and as such, the goal counted.

Even if Brind’Amour challenged this play for goaltender interference, I think he would’ve lost. See rule 69.7 for why. Mrazek was making a play on a loose puck (outside of the crease, although that’s fairly irrelevant) just like Bjork (who poked it out from under his glove) was. That’s not goalie interference according to the rule. The play had not been blown dead, so the puck was still considered loose. Plus, poking the puck out from under the goalie’s glove doesn’t affect his ability to move within the crease or make a save. So, it’s just not goaltender interference.

Also, speaking from experience, you’re told from a young age to play until the whistle blows. That’s exactly what Bjork did. The puck is still considered loose and in play until the whistle blows, even if the goalie has it covered. The ref is supposed to blow the whistle as soon as he sees it’s covered. But, in the short amount of time you have until the ref blows it dead, you can go after it. It’s a good way to get beat up by a defending player, but you can still do it. So, the refs made the right call here.

Game 2, Challenge of Carolina’s Disallowed Goal

As for this one, look at rule 69.3 and you’ll see why it was disallowed. The Hurricanes player made contact with Tuukka in his crease, and so the goal doesn’t count. It doesn’t even matter that it wasn’t intentional. Honestly, it should’ve been a penalty too, because he made no attempt to move after making contact. But, I’m just happy the goal was disallowed. It was pretty obvious goaltender interference.

The argument I see the most against this call was Tuukka still attempted to make the save. But, that doesn’t matter for a few reasons. First off, all that matters according to the rule is contact was made with Tuukka. Secondly, even if did matter that his ability to make the save was impacted, just because Tuukka still attempted to make the save doesn’t mean his ability to do so wasn’t affected. If no contact was made, there’s a good chance Tuukka would’ve been able to make the save. So, yeah, that argument is pretty weak.

Final Thoughts

In short, goaltender interference is a complex rule. It has a lot of parts and it’s not always black and white. There is room for some interpretation on the refs part, and they certainly don’t always get it right. But, I hope this explanation helps you understand what should and should not count as goalie interference in the future. It doesn’t mean it’s always called that way, but at least now you know how it should be called. 

Also, I hope this clears up any remaining questions on the two challenges from the past few days. Even if the shoe was on the other foot, and it was the Bruins losing the challenge, I’d say they were the right calls. They were according to the rulebook, and it’s hard to argue with that. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter!

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

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