Looking back at 2018’s top hockey moments (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 more as we remember 2018.

It was an eventful year across the hockey world with several memorable moments that stood out.

Some of them were amazing and improbable. Some of them were sad and devastating. Some of them were just plain weird.

Here we take a look at some of the ones that stood out the most.

Capitals Stanley Cup and summer of celebration

After years of tremendous regular season success and eventual playoff heartbreak, the Washington Capitals finally broke through their second round glass ceiling, exorcised all of their postseason demons, beat their arch-rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup. By doing so they shook their postseason choker label and Alex Ovechkin picked up the one piece of hardware his Hall of Fame career was missing. Then the Capitals partied like wild throughout the entire summer and lived up their championship season publicly in a way few other teams have in recent years.

Then they came back at the start of the 2018-19 season as good as they were a year ago, with Ovechkin performing at an even higher level.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin is not slowing down]

U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team wins gold

The United States women won gold for the second time at the Olympics, and the first time since 1998, with a thrilling gold medal game victory against Canada that needed a shootout to determine a winner.

It was there that Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored the winner on an incredible move, with Maddie Rooney making the big save to clinch it.

You can watch the entire shootout again.

Scott Foster plays for the Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have fallen off from their championship dynasty days and are on track to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. The highlight of their 2017-18 season was the performance of emergency backup goalie Scott Foster who was called on to play 14 minutes in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He not only played, he stopped all seven shots he faced against one of the best teams in the league.

Foster, 36, spends his days as an accountant and was called on to suit up when Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg suffered an injury in warmups.

The emergency backup goalie is something you see on occasion throughout an NHL season but they almost never have to play. When Collin Delia, who was making his first NHL start for the Blackhawks that night, exited the game with an injury … Foster had to play. He was incredible.

[Related: Scott Foster, accountant by day makes saves with Blackhawks]

Roberto Luongo‘s speech

Not all of the top moments from 2018 were the result of something happy. Following another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, a resident of Parkland, gave an emotional pre-game speech before their Feb. 22 game against the Capitals.

The Humboldt Broncos first game back on the ice

The hockey world was rocked by tragedy on April 6 when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team crashed, killing 16 people (including 10 players) and seriously injuring 13 more. In the weeks after the accident there were countless memorials and tributes, including people across Canada and the United States leaving hockey sticks out on their front porch. Five months after the crash the Broncos returned to the ice, with two surviving players from the accident (Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter). The game was televised nationally throughout Canada on TSN and in the United States on the NHL Network without commercials. The Broncos ended up losing their first game, 2-1, on their way to a 21-13-2 record in 37 games.

The team officially retired the numbers of every player that was involved in the bus crash.

[Related: Humboldt Broncos return to ice five months after bus crash]

Sedins’ last game in Vancouver

After 17 glorious seasons Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. They went out in an incredible way by teaming up, as they did so many times throughout their careers, for the game-winning goal in overtime of their final game in Vancouver.

It was Daniel getting the goal, his second of the game.

They played one more game after that, a road game in Edmonton, that they dropped in a shootout.

Willie O’Ree finally gets his Hall of Fame call

It was long overdue, but the Hockey Hall of Fame finally did the right thing by inducting Willie O’Ree into the builders category.

O’Ree, who is legally blind in his right eye, broke the NHL’s color barrier during the 1957-58 season as a member of the Boston Bruins. His playing career at the NHL level consisted of just four goals and 10 assists over 45 games, but he was still one of the game’s most influential figures and a legend for the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

All Gritty, all the time

Some of the hockey moments from 2018 were also … bizarre. Like the introduction of Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot who has already become one of the most notable and recognizable mascots in the league. Whether you love or hate Gritty (and if you hate Gritty, it will probably hunt you down and tackle you) you have to admit that his introduction created quite a buzz around the sports world.

[Related: Meet Gritty, the Flyers’ horrifyingly delightful new mascot]

The NHL had to tell Brad Marchand to stop licking people

Speaking of bizarre moments, Boston Bruins star forward and Hall of Fame agitator Brad Marchand had to be reprimanded by the NHL for licking opponents during the playoffs. After licking Toronto’s Leo Komarov in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the second time during the season that he did that to Komarov) he did the same thing to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan in the second round. The NHL had to tell him to stop, threatening supplemental discipline if he did not.

Germany’s silver medal at the Olympics

The 2018 men’s Olympic hockey tournament did not feature NHL players for the first time since the 1994 games, but that did not mean the tournament was without its excitement. It gave a bunch of players that wouldn’t have ordinarily had a chance to play on such a stage an opportunity to make a name for themselves, and no team took advantage of that more than the German team that went on an incredible run to the Gold medal game. And for a while, it looked like they were actually going to pull it off until a late goal from Russia sent the game to overtime, where the Russians would end up winning on a power play goal from Kirill Kaprizov.

What was your top hockey moment from the past year?

More PHT Year in Review:
Bloopers

Saves
Goals
Players

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.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

“It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

“Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

“I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

“On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

“It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

“(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

“It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.