There were a few tense moments for Kelly Forbes Tuesday night.
The Stars video coach had made a call down to challenge a Patrick Kane goal 65 seconds into Dallas' huge game against the Chicago Blackhawks, and the refs were really studying the replay. The call was tricky, because Chicago forward Kirby Dach put himself offside by releasing a pass while his skates were in the offensive zone.
Had Dach carried the puck in, he would have been onside. But he released the puck, giving up possession and thus put himself offside on a play where Kane buzzed in and scored on a beautiful move.
"I wouldn't challenge it if I wasn't totally sure, but that one took a long time," Forbes said. "It was a different type of situation, so I'm sure they were just going through the process to make sure they got the rule right. The blood pressure was definitely starting to rise a little bit there."
The guts to make that call are impressive. Win the challenge, and the score goes back to 0-0 and your team gets a huge reprieve. Lose, and you're down 1-0 and the Blackhawks' vaunted power play gets a chance to make it 2-0. Yet, nobody questions Forbes' decision-making.
"We have 100 percent faith in Kelly's judgement," said head coach Rick Bowness. "They have different camera angles and TVs they're looking at, so if they say challenge it, we're going to challenge it 100 percent without question."
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There's good reason for that. Forbes is 13-for-14 in his career since video replay started in 2015. His only failed challenge came when then-coach Lindy Ruff decided that he wanted to challenge a goal because it would give the Stars a long timeout at a time when the team needed a breather.
"I totally understood, because a video review is longer than a normal timeout, and I think it worked out for us there," said Forbes, who is in his 11th season with the Stars.
One of the reasons for the sterling record is the fact Forbes said he is going to be very sure when he asks for a review. Another is the fact he reviews every entry through multiple camera angles, so he knows that if a goal is scored on that shift then he can react quickly.
"You've got about 20 to 30 seconds to make the decision," Forbes said of the reaction after a goal is scored. "Most of the goals that it happens on, I don't even get to see the goal because I'm already rewinding it. You could tell right away it was close, so I stopped my feed right on the entry. Then I go through my camera angles and you process the information as quickly as possible to let the coaches know."
Forbes and assistant video coach Matt Rodell share duties in the video room, so there is a sort of chemistry that allows all bases to be covered. Forbes said he had the blueline camera angle up quickly and knew that Dach had released the puck and put himself offside. He said he had seen a similar situation a few years ago, and it automatically popped into his head.
"I knew right away," Forbes said. "I've watched every challenge (in the NHL) and every situation, and there is a lot of precedent out there. This one had actually happened five or six years ago, and I always thought it was an interesting situation, so I put it in my memory banks. As soon as it happened, I knew he had given up possession and put himself offside."
Forbes said he and Rodell watch every video review in the league and then discuss the aspects of the call.
"Matt's a huge help. He takes a lot of pressure off of me, so in situations like that I can take my time and be sure," Forbes said. "Every morning, we sit down together and go through the challenges from the night before and discuss pretty much every situation. We'll even be sitting at home on an off night and we're both watching games, and he'll text or call and say, 'Turn to the Calgary game, there's a situation happening there.' We make sure we're on our toes and we're always helping each other out."
On Tuesday's call, Kane also was close to being offside, so that complicated the watch. Forbes said he quickly reviewed Kane's skate and said that it was clearly hovering above the blueline, and that's legal by the league's new standard for offside.
That, in itself, can make the job even more difficult. In the past, a skater had to have his skate on the ice and touching the blueline to remain onside. Now, it can be floating above the blueline. Forbes said it's amazing how good players are at understanding where they are on the ice.
"We watch every entry, and it's incredible to see how good they are this year at knowing where they are," Forbes said. "They're such great athletes and they have such great awareness of their bodies, so you really appreciate that when you're breaking it down frame by frame."
Of course, the entire process gets tougher every year. When Ruff made his call, teams only lost a timeout if they were wrong. Now, league rules put the other team on the power play with a missed challenge. So to make a challenge a minute into a game that was pretty revved up took a little confidence.
"He's on his toes and made the right call, which was a tough call to be honest with you," said assistant coach John Stevens, who was acting as head coach Tuesday while Bowness was in COVID protocol. "He's been dead-on. He takes great pride in that. He knows the rules extremely well, stuff that I wouldn't even know. It's a little more elaborate than the guy just being across the line, it's got to do with possession. Dach put himself offside, but he didn't become offside until he passed the puck. It was a complicated read by him. He did an awesome job and I thought it was critical."
Just part of the job, eh?
Forbes and Rodell not only provide in-game information from the video room, but dice up shifts and faceoffs and power plays and penalty kills so that they can be reviewed on the plane or in hotel rooms. They are a huge factor in how the coaches are able to prepare the players.
"They do an awful lot of work," Bowness said. "They're marking every game as it's being played, and they make coaches' jobs a lot easier. We're very fortunate, we've got two of the best in the league."
And that was never more clear than when Forbes made a tough call in a key game under a lot of pressure.
"You use your experience," he said. "I do a lot of research, so you just have to trust your research and your work."
Stars at Blackhawks
Thursday, 7 p.m. CT
United Center, Chicago
TV: Bally Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.