Los Angeles Kings fans at the Staples Center were treated to extra hockey on Wednesday night, but not in the traditional sense of overtime.
The Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets were locked in a 2-2 tie and seemed poised for an extra period of play as time was winding down in regulation.
Instead, a suspicious timing error appeared to extend the third period of the contest by fractions of a second, giving Kings defenseman Drew Doughty just enough time to slap a game-winner past Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford for a buzzer-beating score.
Or did he? After all, Los Angeles is the city of the fashionably late.
Replays conclusively demonstrate that the game clock appeared to freeze at 1.8 seconds, mysteriously restarting moments later just as oddly as it had stopped.
In the end, the timer was frozen at 1.8 for 0.8 seconds, meaning the third period should have expired 0.8 seconds before it actually did—or when the restarted timer reached the 0.8 second-mark.
All this is significant because of Doughty's last-gasp goal, which was legally scored (the entire puck was across the red line) with 0.4 seconds showing on the game clock, which is 0.4 seconds after the period should have expired.
Los Angeles isn't new to the miracle of 0.4 seconds—Derek Fisher's game-winning two-point jumper with just 0.4 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the 2004 Lakers-Spurs NBA Western Conference Semifinals has gone down as one of the greatest historic game-winners in NBA history.
While Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson understandably called foul (blog post since removed), NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell promised a full investigation: "[We've] got to ask every question."
On Thursday night, Campbell concluded, "The goal should not have counted."
However, Campbell also affirmed that the final result of Wednesday's game would not be changed, even though the on-ice ruling was clearly wrong, saying, "Once the game is over, it's over."
Campbell admitted that the NHL's Toronto video room, responsible for all instant-replay reviews, did not go back to 1.8 seconds and review the timing issue. Instead, Campbell explained that period-ending instant replay situations are reviewed from back-to-font, starting—rather than ending—at 0.0 seconds. "When it crosses the line (and) you review it, you back the puck out and you see what the clock was. And the clock was 0.4 seconds."
The big question here regards ethics and integrity: Did a person manually stop the clock for 0.8 seconds, or did the scoreboard simply malfunction?
Though the NHL employs all clock operators—as opposed to the individual team as is the case with several other professional sports—the clock operator nonetheless interacts with home-team employees day-in and day-out. Could there possibly have been undue influence to manipulate the final result?
Or could the clock operator simply have anticipated a late-period whistle that never came?
Electronic timers are computers and rarely start and stop by themselves. Instead, a malfunction would have been caused by loose wiring or a short circuit.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi, on the other hand, believes the issue was caused by science and is a routine event across all scoreboards. He said, "Clocks are sophisticated instruments."
According to Lombardi, the clock's tenths-of-a-second display that kicks in at the one-minute mark has the occasional propensity to run fast, so that the timer may count down from 10.0 to 5.0 seconds in just 4.5 seconds, as opposed to the expected 5.0 seconds it should take.
However, while Lombardi claims the timer self-corrected itself by momentarily pausing at 1.8 seconds while "real-time" caught up, Campbell wasn't buying the Los Angeles GM's explanation. He said, "I'm fairly certain the puck went in at 0.4 so the goal should not have counted."
To determine if Lombardi's scientific analysis holds up requires a review of the entire last minute of play.
Replays indicate it took exactly 1:00.8 seconds to play the final 1:00.0 of Wednesday's Blue Jackets-Kings game, which accounts for the one stoppage of play that occurred with 17 seconds remaining in the period. When the clock stopped at 1.8, it wasn't to self-correct, as Lombardi suggests, it was a mistake.
The only question is whether the mistake was an honest one or whether there was an ulterior motive.
This isn't the first time a question of time has come into play at the end of a televised sporting event: During the 2012 Rose Bowl in college football, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson attempted to spike the ball with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The football game clock, which does not employ tenths-of-a-second, ran to triple zeroes on the play, a call that was confirmed by instant replay review.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.
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