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The best hockey moments of 2017 (PHT Year in Review)

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(Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and much more as we bring you the best of 2017.)

We’ll remember the champions, the award winners, the big goals and the big saves from the past year, but there are also plenty of stories that were memorable in different ways. Some are serious, some are fun, and in the end they’ll be part of the story that hockey in the year 2017 told.

Here are our 15 favorite moments from the hockey world in 2017.

15. Dart Guy introduces himself to the hockey world

Jason Maslakow drove from Waterloo, Ont. to Washington D.C. for Game 2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round series against the Washington Capitals in April. Television cameras caught him during the game and the reaction from fans went through the roof. His face was painted with a leaf on it, his beard was dyed blue, there was a Stanley Cup shaved into his head and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He quickly became known as “Dart Guy,” and fans soon turned the image into memes and used it as their social media avatars.

The 37-year-old’s life changed after that night. The Leafs invited him to attend Game 3 at Air Canada Centre; he took part in various appearances around the city; he eventually gave up smoking and encouraged other fans to follow him; and he even has his own TSN radio show.

14. Andre Burakovsky mistakes random car for Uber, gets ride anyway

Instagram / @manny4prez

We’ve all had this experience, right? You’re waiting on your Uber or Lyft driver to arrive and you think you see them, you pop open the door and then you are embarrassed to learn you almost entered the wrong car. Well, it happened to the Washington Capitals forward last February on his way home from a Top Golf location during the team’s bye week. The driver, Manny Nicolas, didn’t believe who it was at first and was finally convinced when Burakovsky showed him some photos on his phone.

13. Meet the “Dancing goalie from Brampton”

Noah Young may be eight years old, but he’s got the dances moves of a seasoned professional. While he had been dancing regularly during games during his young career, one set of moves was caught on video and went viral as he bounced to “Juju On That Beat” by Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall. That led to him being invited to practice for the ECHL’s Brampton Beast where he got to teach goaltenders Andrew D’Agostini and Zach Fucale exactly what it takes to look smooth out there.

12. Hockey player gets new heart, hits the ice again

Six years ago, Tyler Jaenicke ended a shift unable to catch his breath. After experiencing the issue for several days, he was checked out by a doctor and told the life-altering news. At age 17, he was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a form of heart failure. He had a implantable cardioverter defibrillator put in and had to walk away from the game he loved. In 2016, his heart began failing and surgery was required. He was then placed on the heart transplant list.

Two months after having a battery-operated pump implanted, Jaenicke was notified that a donor heart was available. Forty-eight hours later he underwent a transplant and then went through months of rehab, all while sticking to his goal of playing hockey again. He succeeded and returned to the ice in October as part of Davenport University’s hockey team.

“You just can’t give up on life no matter what it is you’re going through,” Jaenicke told MLive.com. “I’ve been able to reach out to a few kids going through what I went through, and I understand what a difference that can make.”

11. Vladimir Tarasenko’s special birthday surprise

During the St. Louis Blues’ Casino Night, Tarasenko was the winning bidder on a trip for two on the team plane to see them on the road in Arizona and Colorado. The prize obviously wasn’t for the Russian superstar but instead for his friend Arianna Dougan, an 11-year-old who was fighting neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer. A week later, she was invited to meet the team after practice where she received a jersey from head coach Mike Yeo and also handed Tarasenko a box full of cupcakes (blue sprinkles, of course.)

Sadly, Ari would pass away in November and the Blues would honor her during their Hockey Fights Cancer night by wearing bedazzled warmups jerseys.

10. Connor McDavid and that awkward fan photo

It’s no surprise that the Edmonton Oilers star is stopped at the airport with photo requests from fans, but one last May took on a life of its own because of the look on his face. He told the story of what happened on the Puck Soup Podcast in June:

“I was walking into the security line and I had actually walked past them. And then they say ‘hey Connor can we get a picture?’ and I say ‘sure’ and sure enough they come up to me and start hugging me.  Both of them. Both of them were hugging me.  And sure enough there was someone who had their phone ready to take a picture. They had already turned around and were ready for the picture and took the picture before I had even realized what was going on. The whole thing lasted seven seconds and then I was out of there.”

9. Chris Pronger’s smiling check on Justin Bieber

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Remember the celebrity game during All-Star Weekend in January? No? I’ll bet you remember this photo, thought. That’s all you need to remember, really.

8. Brian Boyle scores first goal after cancer diagnosis

Leukemia wasn’t going to stop Boyle from playing the game he loves. After missing the first month of the season for treatment, he returned in early November to the New Jersey Devils’ lineup. In his fifth game back, he scored on Cam Talbot, which unleashed plenty of emotion from the veteran forward.

“I’ve never cried after a goal before,” Boyle told MSG’s Deb Placey during the first intermission. “It’s a lot. It’s everything… These guys, my wife, my kids, they’ve been through a lot, too. My parents, my siblings, it’s a good feeling.”

7. Craig Anderson’s emotional Bill Masterton Trophy speech

Anderson had to take several absences away from his Ottawa Senators teammates as his wife, Nicholle, fought a rare throat cancer. She would go into remission in May and a month later the netminder was awarded the 2017 Masterton Trophy and delivered this memorable line: “Live for the now.”

6. Alex Ovechkin delivers hat trick for fan on Hockey Fights Cancer Night

When Ovechkin promised Alex Luey that he would score for him against the Toronto Maple Leafs last month, he told the 13-year-old he would try and find him in the crowd. The Washington Capitals captain tallied a hat trick that night to help make the young cancer survivor’s night.

5. Dave Strader returns to Dallas Stars broadcast booth

As he battled bile duct cancer, the play-by-play man returned in February to call a Stars game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It ended in dramatic fashion as captain Jamie Benn fired home the overtime goal. After the celebrations ended, the players all gathered at center ice to salute Strader.

The long-time hockey broadcaster would pass away in October and was further remembered when the team held their Hockey Fights Cancer night in early November. Days before he was honored as the 2017 Foster Hewitt Award, Strader’s son, Trevor, performed the national anthem before the Stars game that night.

4. Bryan Bickell scores first career shootout goal in final NHL game

Through 395 NHL games, Bickell had only taken one attempt in the shootout. Knowing it was his final game, the Carolina Hurricanes forward scored, five months after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. You can see how much the moment meant not only to Bickell and his wife, but also to his teammates.

3. Jamie Benn promises goal for car crash survivor, delivers

The first time Kendra Murray met Benn she was in a hospital room recovering from a car crash that took the lives of two of her friends. The next time she saw him was at a morning skate in October, eight months after the accident. After chatting with general manager Jim Nill, she got to see Tyler Seguin, who visited her that day with Benn, again, and then she met up with the Stars captain who told her, “I’ll score for you. I’ll make sure it’s for you.”

Sure enough, he did early in the second period of that night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, he did it,’” Murray told Pro Hockey Talk in October. “That’s actually for me and I knew that it was for me. It was so crazy. It was the first goal, too. It made the Stars be ahead in the game which was awesome.”

2. Viktor Arvidsson assists Predators fan in marriage proposal

“Don’t drop it,” were the words of advice from Matt Irwin. The Nashville Predators forward was tasked with delivering an engagement ring on his way to the Bridgestone Arena ice for warmups. When he took off his glove and handed the ring to Morgan Landsberg, her face filled with shock and confusion. She turned around and then saw her now-fiancee Conor Payne get down on one knee and pop the question. She said yes and now has one of the better engagement stories out there.

1. Golden Knights honor Vegas shooting victims and first responders

After the tragic mass shooting on Oct. 1 just blocks from T-Mobile Arena, the Vegas Golden Knights held a ceremony prior to their first home game to pay tribute to the victims and first responders. The team introduced doctors, firemen, nurses, paramedics and police officers, who were each accompanied by a Golden Knights player. There was also a 58-second moment of silence remembering the 58 victims with their names superimposed on the ice. The advertisements on the boards were replaced with the #VegasStrong hashtag.

To end the ceremony, Deryk Engelland, a Vegas native, spoke to the crowd reminding them they are all “Vegas strong.” He would later score in the franchise’s first ever win.

Previously:

The top hockey bloopers of 2017

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Penguins, Lightning on two different paths

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

As two of the NHL’s best teams over the past five years there is always a championship expectation for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. With both coming off of similarly disappointing postseason exits in 2019 (combined postseasons win between the two teams: zero) there was no doubt plenty of additional pressure on both teams at the start of this season.

For the Penguins, it is about regaining the identity that helped make them a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion and trying to maximize the remaining window they have in the careers of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. You only get players of that caliber for so long, and you owe it to them — and the franchise — to put them in the best possible situation to win. Anytime you do not win, and especially when you lose like they did to the New York Islanders, it is going to feel like a missed opportunity.

For the Lightning, it is about shaking the bad memories of so many recent postseason disappointments and finally breaking through with a championship for what is probably the league’s most talented roster on paper. After blowing 3-2 series leads in two different Eastern Conference Finals, as well as a 2-1 series lead in a Stanley Cup Final, the 2018-19 season seemed like it was finally going to be the year for Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman as they rolled through a 62-win regular season. What followed was the most disappointing of their postseason shortcomings, losing four consecutive games to the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets.

[COVERAGE OF LIGHTNING-PENGUINS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

So far this season the two teams have been on slightly different paths in their quest to reach the top, even if there isn’t much difference in their overall records.

The Penguins entered the season with several questions, ranging from the state of their defense, to their forward depth, to how the power play would look without Phil Kessel following his offseason trade to Arizona. As if that wasn’t enough, the team has been dealt a brutal hand with early injuries as Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann, and Brian Dumoulin have all been sidelined for a total of 38 man-games due to injury. Despite that, they have not only managed to win the majority of their games, they have carried the play more often than not, even in defeat. Even their two most recent losses (Vegas and Florida) probably had more to do with some bad puck luck than bad play.

They are playing smart, they are limiting odd-man rushes against, they are playing sound defensively, and they have received strong goaltending from the duo of Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. Add in more dominance from Crosby and they are keeping pace with the rest of the top teams in the Eastern Conference with a lineup that has been pieced together through call-ups.

There is an argument to be made that they have probably overachieved given the circumstances.

It’s been a slightly difference experience so far for the Lightning.

Other than Brayden Point, who missed the first three games of the season as he continued to recover from offseason hip surgery, they have been 100 percent healthy from the start and have had the roster they have wanted to have at their disposal. Despite that, neither the results nor the process are what they want to be.

Entering Wednesday’s game they have won just four of their first eight games and they are probably fortunate to have won as many as they have. At times they have looked like a fraction of the team that dominated the regular season a year ago. In one early game against Carolina they recorded just three shots on goal over more than 40 minutes of hockey. In another, they were dominated by an Ottawa team that has just one win on the season (the win against the Lightning).

Overall there is nothing about their performance that is close to being up to their level of expectation.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has struggled in goal, their penalty kill is among the worst in the league, and their overall 5-on-5 performance has at times just simply been bad. Entering play on Tuesday they are 26th in the league in shot attempt percentage and 24th in scoring differential, both signs that they are not yet carrying the play in those situations. Given the roster they are returning it has been a rather underwhelming start.

Wednesday seems like a great opportunity to get things trending back in the right direction.

They are rested, they are at home, and they are playing a banged up, tired Penguins team that just dropped a 4-2 decision on Tuesday night against Florida.

It is still too early to be too worried, but at some point they would probably like to start playing closer to their level of expectation. Everything is set up for them to start getting there on Wednesday. If they can not take advantage of the situation in front of them it might be another red flag in a start that has already had too many of them.

NBC Sports will showcase a group of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients that are being recognized by the Tampa Bay Lightning in pre-game ceremonies as part of its Wednesday Night Hockey coverage. Jeremy Roenick will interview Medal of Honor recipients during pre-game and game coverage on Wednesday night, and NHL Live will air a feature with interviews of both current Lightning players and Medal of Honor recipients.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Jeremy Roenick will report on-site from Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Penguins-Lightning.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Sabres’ hot start; Coaches on hot seat

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Matt Dumba and Haydn Fleury got a tattoo to honor a friend that committed suicide. (NHL.com)

• Players and coaches deserve credit for the Buffalo Sabres hot start. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Former NHLer Chris Joseph is still fighting for the victims of the Humboldt bus crash. (The Hockey News)

Ryan O'Reilly will need to be more selfish if he wants to find the back of the net more often. (In the Slot)

• Seattle hockey fans will have to pay a high price to watch their team play in person. (Seattle Times)

• Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog sat down for a Q & A with ESPN.com. (ESPN)

Patrick Kane believes, Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome can build chemistry together. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent Nicklas Backstrom still feels young. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Sam Gagner is still trying to stick in the NHL. (Sportsnet)

• Canadian NHL markets have seen their attendance numbers drop early on this season. (Sporting News)

• How long can the Penguins continue playing the way they’re currently playing and how will they integrate their injured players back into the lineup? (Pensburgh)

• Jets head coach Paul Maurice admitted that he steals from each one of the coaches in the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Here’s how the zamboni changed the game for ice rinks all over the world. (Smothsonianmag.com)

• Which coaches are on the hot seat right now? (Scotty Wazz)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Eichel explodes for Sabres; More history for Caps’ Carlson

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The Sharks ended the first period up 2-0 against the Sabres, so it took quite the surge from Eichel & Co. to win that one 4-3 in OT.

Eichel was involved in all four of Buffalo’s goals, scoring two goals and two assists. That included the game-winner in overtime for the Sabres. The American-born forward ended the night with six shots on goal, a +2 rating, and went 12-10 on faceoffs.

The 22-year-old went two games without a point, but he’s still off to a hot start in 2018-19, as Tuesday pushed Eichel’s totals to 14 points in 10 games.

2. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Minnesota’s showing some signs of life with a two-game winning streak, but some of the joy was muted thanks to Devan Dubnyk leaving the game with an injury after a bad collision.

As ominous as that seems, it has to be a relief for the Wild to see Eric Staal finally have a breakthrough night on Tuesday. Staal scored two goals (including the 1-0 tally, thus the game-winner) and an assist, with those two goals being Staal’s first of the season. The 34-year-old’s been a revelation in Minnesota (peaking with 42 goals and 76 points in 2017-18), and he seemed to give the Wild a pretty sweet deal with his latest contract. Well, it’s a sweet deal if Staal’s game doesn’t sink too much; otherwise, you wonder if they’d be better off moving on and getting younger.

Anyway, this was a nice overall effort from Staal, who also had a +2 rating, five SOG, and went 8-7 on draws.

3. Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

Like the Sabres, the Canucks fell behind early on Tuesday. The Red Wings opened up a 2-0 lead against Vancouver, only for the Canucks to explode with five unanswered goals in the third period.

Horvat contributed three of those goals. While Staal gets the higher star because all of his points came against a goalie (Horvat’s third tally was an empty-netter), it was still a strong night from Horvat.

Similarly to Staal, Horvat came into Tuesday on a quiet start, as Horvat only had two goals and one assists for three points through eight contests. He managed his first career NHL hat trick on Tuesday, pushing him to six points in nine games.

Highlight of the Night

It was already covered here (alongside a fun blooper), but it has to be David Pastrnak‘s between-the-legs goal, right?

Factoids

  • John Carlson cemented his spot alone atop the NHL’s scoring leaders list by generating two goals, pushing him to 20 points on the season as Washington beat Calgary. NHL PR points out some impressive history for Carlson, including that he joined Bobby Orr (twice) and wonderfully old-timey-named Baldy Northcott (in 1932-33) as the only defensemen to lead the league outright in scoring through 20 days. Carlson reached 20 points in 11 games, tying Orr (in 1974-75) as the second-fastest surge to 20 points for a defenseman. Only Paul Coffey hit 20 faster, doing it in 10 games in 1988-89. Sportsnet notes that Carlson’s already off to one of the best Octobers for a defenseman, and the Capitals have three more games left in the month.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 446th NHL win, breaking a tie with Terry Sawchuk for seventh all-time. Henrik Lundqvist is at sixth with 450, while Curtis Joseph ranks at fifth with 454. It should be interesting to see if MAF ends up higher than Lundqvist when they’re both done — which hopefully isn’t anytime soon.
  • Sabres wunderkind Rasmus Dahlin has 10 points through his first 10 games, landing on a short list of defensemen who managed such a short at 20 years old or younger. Another Sabres stat: Eichel scored his sixth overtime goal, already tying the franchise record at 22.

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
BUF 4 – SJS 3 (OT)
FLA 4 – PIT 2
ARI 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
VAN 5 – DET 2
NSH 6 – ANA 1
MIN 3 – EDM 0
LAK 3 – WPG 2
VGK 2 – CHI 1 (SO)
WSH 5 – CGY 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Two goals, two extremes: Pastrnak beauty and Murray blunder

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You don’t often hear the phrase “keep your eyes on the puck.” Greg Wyshynski basically wrote a hockey book about watching how things develop away from the puck, for instance.

Tuesday presented one great highlight reel moment, and one for the bloopers, and you may note that the key figures involved either kept their eye(s) on the puck or couldn’t quite manage it.

To start, you have Boston Bruins star David Pastrnak in the moment that will probably linger in the memories of more hockey fans beyond Tuesday. After being robbed of an impressive goal thanks to an offside review early against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pastrnak made a tremendous between-the-legs move to score for Boston, and add to his gaudy goal-scoring start.

Also notice that Pastrnak was able to keep his eye on the puck as it went into the net, as he gestured as such while others seemed bewildered — maybe by him being audacious enough to make that move.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray. He allowed a goal he’ll undoubtedly want back against Noel Acciari of the Florida Panthers, and it’s about as close to hockey’s version of “losing a baseball in the lights” as I think you’ll see:

It’s hard not to feel for Murray there, and one cannot help but feel pity for any goalie facing Pastrnak lately.

Pastrnak’s Bruins ended up beating the Maple Leafs 4-2, while Murray’s Penguins fell 4-2 to the Panthers.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.